Singapore: Chinese Taipei may have lost their opening AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group E qualifier against Turkmenistan earlier this year, but midfielder Chen Po-liang is refusing to give up on his dream of a long-overdue return to the continental championship.
With the finals expanded to 24 teams, Chinese Taipei will be one of a handful of representative teams eyeing their first appearance at the competition in modern times, and China-based Chen remains upbeat.
"We will still try to aim for progression into the Asian Cup finals, even though we have to realistically admit we are not certain at this moment,” the 28-year-old Hangzhou Greentown star said ahead of Saturday’s clash with Singapore.
“Many key players (who did not feature against Turkmenistan) have returned for the Singapore game, an indication on how important our FA views this crucial fixture."
The island’s last appearance at the Asian Cup finals came in 1968 under the banner of the Republic of China, when they notched up a fourth place finish eight years after coming third in the second-ever championship.
A withdrawal in 1972 and expulsion from the competition four years later started a run of absences from the Asian Cup finals for a Chinese Taipei side which since failing to enter the competition from 1980 until 1988, has not come close to qualifying.
Chinese Taipei’s intermittent appearances on the international stage have led to a lack of development of the representative side, but with increased exposure and a growing number of professional players within the squad, Chen believes improvements can be made.
"The international level game is at a different level from the domestic game back in Taiwan,” says Chen.
“The tempo of play in international football is much faster, while the physical and tactical standards are stronger. There is plenty to gain from playing against stronger opponents, and our growth could be accelerated further if we have been able to get consistent exposure by playing tough games on a more regular basis.
“With these games, we can improve much more."
Chen has played most of his career since 2011 outside Chinese Taipei, featuring in the Hong Kong league and in China’s second division and he is one of ten players in head coach Kazuo Kuroda’s current squad playing outside the island.
Most, like Yaki Yen and Chen Chao-an, feature for clubs in China while veteran midfielder Xavier Chen is contracted to Mechelen in Belgium, the land of the defender’s birth.
That experience has helped raise the standard of the team, believes Chen.
"The sharing of our experiences playing in foreign leagues can only help the younger home-based players get a better understanding on what the game is about and help improve the overall quality of the national team,” he says.
“With this exposure, we are able to tell our colleagues how to deal with certain game situations where a single mistake can result in us conceding a goal and have an impact in the final outcome."
Chinese Taipei’s next Asian Cup clash is in Singapore when they face V. Sundramoorthy’s team for the first time since losing 3-2 in a friendly against the Southeast Asian nation back in 2011.
Chen acknowledges that previous encounter will count for little against an opponent also looking for their first win of the campaign after drawing 0-0 with Bahrain in the opening round of matches on March 28 (pictured below).
"A lot of things have happened during those six years and it will not be the same, not even if we had played Singapore a year ago,” he says.
“We have simply focused on watching and observing their recent games such as their 0-0 draw against Bahrain away.
“It will not be easy to take on Singapore, especially when we are playing in away conditions and on artificial turf at Jalan Besar Stadium."