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Van Courier: Proud Canadians get kicks in China

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Proud Canadians get their kicks in China

Vancouver Courier

December 8, 2003

By Bob Mackin


This year's women's world hockey championship in China was cancelled because of SARS. Soccer's Women's World Cup was moved to the United States because of the epidemic. The fifth Chinese World Football Tournament stayed put and went ahead, albeit six months late.

That gave two Vancouver teams, backed by sports-loving businessman David Ho, more time to prepare for the 17-team, nine-nation soccer tournament in Suzhou, China. The Nov. 18-21 event was an international celebration of Chinese culture via the world's most popular sport in the world's most populous country, where the "disease of the year" is no longer a concern.

HMY Vancouver placed fourth in the over-35 division, losing its only game to the eventual champion from Taiwan. An under-19 team from Shanghai edged the HMY Vancouver entry in the men's open division 1-0 in the Nov. 21 final.

The latter squad, featuring players in their late teens to early 30s, beat the host Suzhou Selects 2-0 on Nov. 18 and blasted Shanghai Fook Tat SC 5-0 the next day to enter the open division final against Shanghai Jungshun SC.

The game was scoreless when the Shanghai goalkeeper's punt ended up deep in Vancouver's half with less than 15 minutes to go. An errant header by a defender and a failed clearance delivered the ball to an opposing player at the top of the penalty area. He sent the ball rocketing into the Vancouver net for the only goal of the game.

"I've got to give them credit for playing so well defensively," said John Chou, a 20-year-old midfielder and East Side resident. "We just couldn't put the ball in the net. They were prepared for us. We had one slip and they rifled it, top corner, you couldn't stop that one."

Sweeper Ivan Lee, a 32-year-old East Sider, watched helplessly as the winning goal sailed high over his head and into the goal.

"Once they scored, we just all-out attacked," he said. "We hit the crossbar, we had a couple of corner kicks where we hit the side of the net. We had chances, but we just couldn't score."

HMY Vancouver was accustomed to the late-autumn single-digit temperatures, clouds and drizzle during nighttime games at a sparsely attended 35,000-seat stadium. What differed was the style of play exhibited by the three Chinese opponents. The physical Canadian play earned players like Lee yellow cards in the matches against the skilful, tricky hosts.

"We're more direct," said Lee, who plays for the Vancouver Metro Soccer League's ICSF Inter. "There was a lot of diving on their part, typical of skilful players. Every time we touched them on the ball, they'd fall down easily or pretend they were kicked and hurt. They were all legal challenges, shoulder-to-shoulder."

For Chou, the tournament was about more than results. The member of the VMSL's Westside Rino was born in Vancouver a year after his parents immigrated from Guangdou, China in 1982. The trip overseas was his first to his parents' homeland since his childhood and it gave him a chance to wear the maple leaf in an international soccer tournament.

"It meant a whole lot, actually," Chou said. "The ultimate dream is to play in a World Cup game, but this kind of tournament is like the World Cup. It's definitely a positive in my life. You've got to play your hearts out for your country. We're proud to be Canadian and represent Canada."

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