Chongqing– At the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, three budding Chinese football players stepped onto the pitch as FIFA flag bearers. Now that twenty years have passed since China last appeared in the World Cup finals, this sight left a deep impression on many Chinese netizens and raised hopes the national team will achieve success one day.
Following their appearance on the field on November 20th, before the match between host nation Qatar and Ecuador, the young trio Naibo Ninglin, Tan Bo, and Dong Tiechui recalled their experiences. They imagined playing one day in the World Cup for their national team.
Lin Xiongwei is the proud father of Naibo and a long-term football enthusiast who once represented the Liangshan Football Team in Sichuan. Watching his son take the pitch as flag bearer, he shared his impressions. “I used to think of the World Cup as far removed from me, but now I am excited to see my son in Qatar.”
This influence brushed off on the young Naibo Ninglin, who has been enthusiastic about the sport since childhood. “My dad used to play football every weekend, and I would kick a ball around on the pitch during halftime.” Later, he began to participate in national competitions from the age of nine.
Tan Bo and Dong Tiechui were also extremely keen on football from a young age. On the day they received news that they were to serve as a flag bearer over a fortnight ago, 18-year-old Tan was so excited he could barely sleep that night.
The Chinese multinational conglomerate Wanda Group acquired a 20 percent stake in the Spanish club Atletico Madrid in 2015. Still, it reduced this figure by 17 percent a few years later in the face of turbulent market conditions. This investment has been aimed at helping Atletico develop in the Asian market and take advantage of its rich experience in youth coaching to increase the competitiveness of Chinese football.
Thanks to the excellent football skills that Naibo, Tan, and Dong possess, they currently receive professional training from Atletico Madrid in Spain. During this time, they have overcome many challenges as they work to improve their skills and dream of playing for their country one day.
A few years ago, they were selected for an overseas program organized by the Chinese Football Association, which allowed training with the Spanish club Atlético de Madrid. In the beginning, Language and cultural barriers posed many issues for them. Naibo still found the ideas the coach tried to convey challenging, even when a translator was available.
However, he did not give up, and his skills and ball sense greatly improved once he adapted to Madrid, earning favor from the coaching staff. As a result, he was selected for the academy. He rubbed shoulders with famous stars such as Joao Felix, who offered ‘Little Felix’ words of encouragement, saying that Naibo could sign a professional contract with Atletico Madrid when he reached the age of 18 but would also like him to join his national team and represent China in a future World Cup.
For now, the opportunity to be flag bearers has strengthened the resolve of these three young players to become world-class players for their country. “It would be incredible to wear the Chinese team outfit and sing the national anthem at the World Cup,” commented Naibo.
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