by Sportswriter Zhan Tingting
BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- For millions of soccer fans in China, the year of 2013 provided little to celebrate barring the success of big-spending Guangzhou Evergrande in club competitions.
On the back of World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi and a string of foreign talent that includes Argentinean midfielder Dario Conca and Brazilian forward Elkeson, Evergrande became the first Chinese team in 23 years to win Asia's club championship as they swept through the AFC Champions League before defeating FC Seoul in a tight, two-legged final.
However, it was agonizing for soccer-mad Chinese that their national team showed little signs of progress as they struggled in the Asian Cup qualifiers following last year's bitter elimination from the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
China set themselves up for a tough final game away against 2007 Asian Cup winners Iraq after failing to beat already qualified Saudi Arabia. The teams will meet in March next year with China needing to avoid defeat to escape the embarrassment of missing out the Asian Cup for the first time since their debut appearance in 1976.
But the most striking defeat was China's 5-1 humilation by Thailand in an international friendly in June, which led to the sacking of ex-Spain and Real Madrid manager Jose Antonio Camacho by the Chinese Football Association.
The country's once-mighty women's soccer team, nicknamed the 'Steel Roses' during their prime time in the late 1990s, disappointed the fans as well.
The former World Cup and Olympics runners-up came fourth in the East Asian Cup tournament which also featured DPR Korea, South Korea and Japan.
In basketball and volleyball, which alongside soccer are often referred to as the three 'big ball' sports in China, glory days also seemed a past.
The Chinese men's basketball team finished only fifth in the Asian championships, their worst result at the continental event in nearly four decades.
And for the first time since 2001, China's women's basketball team, a perennial dominant force in Asia, failed to make the final of the Asian championship.
Yet among the three 'big ball' events, the women's volleyball team's poor run was the most sorrowful given the fact that legendary Lang Ping took over as the head coach in April.
Lang's side suffered shock defeats by Thailand and South Korea to finish fourth in the Asian Championship, their worst ever result since the first Asian Championship in 1975.
In a bid to improve the standard of three 'big ball' games, a weird medal counting system was used in the 12th Chinese National Games, which awarded two golds to the winner of each Olympic gold in London and three golds to the respective National Games winners of soccer, volleyball and basketball.
Indeed, provincial sports authorities have been motivated by these new policies and devoted more resources to the development of big ball events.A latest proof was that Wenyi basketball club was set up early this month, the first professional 'big ball' team in central China's Anhui province.