Republic of China / Taiwan / 台灣 / Chinese Taipei
- Capital: Taipei
- Official Languages: Formosan languages, Hakka, Hokkien, Mandarin, Matsu, Taiwan Sign Language
- Nicknames: Mulan (women’s)
- Association: Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA) / 中華民國足球協會
- FIFA Code: TPE
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Quarter Finals (1991)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Third Place (1960)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (1977, 1979, 1981)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 121st (July 2003)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 22nd (December 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 191st (June 2016)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 43rd (March 2012)
- Most Capped Player: Chen Po-Liang – 79 caps [as of Dec 2020]
- Top Scorer: Chen Po-Liang – 10 goals [as of Dec 2020]
The Republic of China (ROC), also known as Taiwan, has an interesting situation with international football having played under a number of different auspices throughout its history. Firstly China (when it was founded on mainland China), then Taiwan, Republic of China before changing to their current name of the deliberately ambiguous Chinese Taipei. This name was first proposed in the Nagoya Resolution whereby the ROC / Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) recognize the right of participation to each other when it comes to the activities of the International Olympic Committee, and thus football adopted suit to avoid the ongoing political situation between the two nations.
The men’s Taiwanese national team had great success in the 1960s by reaching the semi-finals of the Asian Cup on two occasions, albeit using a large number of players from Hong Kong (as the reputation of the Hong Kong side was not as good back then). Likewise the women’s team were even more successful in the late 70s and early 80s by winning three consecutive Asian Cups. Alas the fortunes of both teams have suffered throughout the years with the men’s team languishing towards the lower end of the FIFA rankings. There were some thoughts that a potential revival was on the cards when they just missed out on qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup by just a single point, but alas they still yet to qualify for any competition since 1968.
To talk about one of the more interesting international sides in East Asian football, who have to play under a ‘sporting moniker’ for their country, we interviewed the brilliant Mark Henderson from From The Tofu Bowl. A superb site which focuses on all football from all of the East Asian countries, regularly producing articles, podcasts and videos that talk about the news, headlines and results coming from the EAFF countries. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Mark’s Twitter: @donmaarko
- Website: https://www.fromthetofubowl.com/
- YouTube: The Tofu Bowl YouTube Channel
- FTTB’s Twitter: @TheTofuBowl
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fromthetofubowl/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fromthetofubowl/
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Without question, the best player in Taiwan is Chen Po-Liang. He has the most caps for Taiwan (79 caps) and is the highest scorer for his country (25 goals). 25 goals may not sound like such a massive haul, but when you consider that Taiwan loiter around the bottom of the FIFA World Rankings, and he plays as an attacking midfielder and not a striker, it is a massive achievement on from him. Not only is he the most capped player, and the highest goal scorer, he has also played most of his career in professional football. Which also doesn’t sound like much, but most of Taiwan’s players play in the local Taiwanese league, and teams in that are mostly semi-pro at best. He moved to Shenzhen Ruby in 2012, and has been playing in China ever since, mostly in League One, which is the Chinese second division. All of these facts make him the best player to ever represent Taiwan, without question.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
I can only really tell you about the present cult hero, because it is difficult to find information about players from the past. The most current cult hero is definitely Chen Hao-Wei. He is probably the only local player capable of running at players with the ball and taking people on. This has changed a little bit since Taiwan started getting dual-national players into their team a few years back, but Hao-Wei is highly thought of, and has been pretty much the only players capable of getting Taiwanese fans, excited and on their feet for years now. The one thing about him is he does run a bit into blind alleys, but it is difficult to figure out if that is because Taiwanese players haven’t had the best start in football compared to Europeans, competition for young players here, until recently, has been very scarce. The paucity of competition at an early age denies young players the fundamentals that youngsters in other countries take for granted, which benefits them in the long run because their decision making process is a lot quicker than players who haven’t had this kind of early level competition. This is something that has clearly failed Hao-Wei, because with a higher-level initial grounding in football, I believe he is one player who could have played at an even higher level than he has.
Hao-Wei, like Po-Liang, has also attempted to play professionally, but unlike Hao-Wei it seems like he has found it a bit more difficult to nail down a regular role in any team, playing mostly for Beijing Enterprises in the Chinese League One until being released. Now he plays for Eastern in Hong Kong’s Premier League which is a level above Taiwan, but he must be feeling the frustration of not getting regular games as he was recently sent off for stamping on an opponent.
One other player I really should also mention is Xavier Chen, who was the first player of dual nationality to represent Taiwan. He is the only player to have played at a high level in Europe regularly for KV Mechelen in Belgium.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Chinese Taipei/Taiwan currently?
Chen Po-Liang is still a mainstay of the Taiwan national team, but his influence is waning. He is 32 now, and has been moved further back, to a deep lying midfield role, which I don’t think suits him so well. It seems to have had a bit of a negative effect in my opinion. Hopefully one of the young players can fill his massive boots when he retires, but it doesn’t look like any will manage it right now. Once Po-Liang retires, it seems like he is keen to go into management and coaching, which wouldn’t shock me. He is fiercely proud of captaining Taiwan and representing them on the global stage.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Poor, exceptionally poor. The problem Taiwan had, is during the time with Gary White, expectations were raised that the team had made amazing progress. Because during that time they started winning often, which is something that hasn’t really happened before in people’s living memory. Then for the 2022 World Cup qualifying draw, Taiwan were amazingly ranked as a 3rd seed. Which give the possibility of having a wonderful group, but it didn’t turn out that way. Australia were the top seed, and they brought all of their big name players (including Aaron Mooy and Matt Ryan) to Kaohsiung to defeat Taiwan 7-1 (Taiwan were excellent in that match! Despite the scoreline and took the game to the Aussies). Mooy ran the show from midfield for Australia, and was instrumental in the huge win, as no one could get close to him and it felt like he had an eternity on the ball.
2nd seed in the group was Jordan, a side that had just come out of the 2019 Asian Cup with a lot of plaudits for playing so well, and traditionally the Middle Eastern sides are some of the most difficult to face in qualifying, because they are technical and physical while also being good at football. Something the rest of Asia is still trying to catch up with. Jordan also had Cyprus’ player of the season in Musa Al-Taamari who was excellent in the match against Taiwan and exposed the full backs to help Jordan to a 2-1 win.
Taiwan were ranked 3rd seed, but the real elephant in the group was getting Kuwait as the 4th seed. This was because Kuwait were only ranked so low for qualifying due to their FA being banned by FIFA. So in theory, they would not have been 4th seeds if they had been playing games, something which was seen in Taiwan losing 9-0 away in Kuwait City.
The big killer though, was the 2-0 home defeat to Nepal. That is a match that Taiwan should have won. These defeats mean that now Taiwan face a struggle to even be involved in qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup. As things stand, they would be in a two-legged playoff against a 4th placed finisher in World Cup qualifying. When matches resume, Taiwan really need to beat Nepal 3-0, otherwise when they play in the pre-qualifying Asian Cup game, they could find themselves with a very difficult tie, and then would need to play in the absolutely rubbish AFC Solidarity Cup, which in no way at all replaces the qualifying matches. It is basically a glorified friendly tournament to allow the crap teams in Asia to actually play matches. I am praying Taiwan won’t end up in that, but it is looking like it’ll fall down to the luck of who they draw for the pre-qualifier.
Q. Are there any Taiwanese players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The two most promising players are Emilio Estevez and Will Donkin. Both are dual nationals, Estevez is Canadian and Donkin is English. Both qualify for Taiwan through one of their parents, and Taiwan have since decided to call up these players, which is a welcome change from not doing so in the past. Worryingly, FIFA new eligibility rule change means that Estevez could now be picked up by Canada, which is concerning.
There is also a great young player in the U21s who is Swedish/Taiwanese called Miguel Sandberg, who recently was on trial at QPR, but that got cut short due to the Coronavirus. Hopefully he also plays for Taiwan in the future and not Sweden. All are young, all play some attacking midfield role, and the three of them could be an amazing attacking trio, which is something the Taiwan national team has never had before. Although for many the sight of names such as Estevez, Donkin and Sandberg lining up for Taiwan might be confusing, but there is a massive Taiwanese diaspora around the world and Taiwan should be tapping into this for sure.
Q. Looking at Chinese Taipei/Taiwan’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
There is no contest for the best result, Taiwan’s 2-1 home win against Bahrain in September 2017. Taiwan were losing 1-0 going into the final 3 minutes or so, but somehow scored two goals at the death, even when Bahrain were trying every trick in the book to waste time. Thankfully, they were punished for all their underhand tactics with two late goals as Taiwan threw the kitchen sink at it. This win put them on the brink of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE. Taiwan needed to travel to Turkmenistan after that result and not lose. Unfortunately they did lose and missed out on qualification by 1 point. Never before have they been so close to a major tournament in living memory, and it is likely that they never will be again.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Staying awake until 2am watching Taiwan lose 9-0 away to Kuwait was a personal low point. That was a disaster waiting to happen as Taiwan arrived in Kuwait a day before the game or something like that. Losing 2-0 at home to Nepal in World Cup qualifying was a gut wrencher, and losing away in Turkmenistan when Taiwan absolutely hammered the Turkmen goal was awful. Essentially there are too many low points to name them all, but that comes back to supporting a national team rooted to the bottom of the FIFA rankings unfortunately. The low points will always outnumber the high points, so you have to enjoy the positives when they do arrive because they’re few and far between.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Chinese Taipei/Taiwan national team?
The best thing about following the Taiwan national team is the closeness of the players and fans. A lot of players in the national team play in the local league or share pitches to train on with local leagues of all different levels. Most of the guys are approachable and will be happy enough to chat with fans about whatever, essentially it’s just like seeing your mate in the street, something which could never happen following a massive footballing country. The other good thing is the passion they have for representing Taiwan. When they lose, some of them look close to tears even if it’s a friendly, and when they win you can see the pride oozing from them. Taiwan is way more patriotic than people notice, and way more patriotic than England, which is likely the cause of it.
The worst thing about football here is it’s a minority sport behind baseball and basketball, but it is growing. The other thing which is linked to that, is that there is no real fan culture, but some people are trying to change that so there is a small presence of fanatical fans at matches with drums and chanting songs, but it is a much smaller number than other nations where football is the main deal and all other sports have to get in line behind footy for attention.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
The main song sung by Taiwanese fans (mainly the small group of vocal fans) at matches is Sa’icelen Formosa to the rhythm of Oh My Darling Clementine.
Formosa ~ Formosa
用盡全力讓世界都知道 我們來自Formosa (Chinese version)
Formosa ~ Formosa
~ Formosa ~
All out to let the world know we are from Formosa.
- “Sa’icelen” is an indigenous Amis term used to encourage people to work harder and keep going in the face of adversity.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Most Taiwan shirts are god awful and just plain blue (home) or white (away), but my favourite shirt they had was the one with the indigenous Taiwanese crested serpent eagle on it because I often see these fabulous birds gliding through the sky when I am out hiking. The shirts can still be bought on Classic Football Shirts, but a word of warning, it is bloody awful to wear! However, it looks great and would be good for England as its thick. It’s Asian fit though, so if you’re on the side of having a larger gut, I’d advise against wearing it.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Taiwanese national team?
My hope for the immediate future is more of a prayer. I am praying that we get into the Asian Cup qualifiers because Taiwan need more competitive matches in order to raise the profile of football with a Taiwanese audience. If we do get into the Asian Cup qualifiers, my next big hope is that we draw countries with close proximity to Taiwan that could raise the profile of the game. The likes of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia or the Philippines all have massive expat communities here and would draw a huge crowd for example. Those kind of fixtures would be a lot better than Middle East or South Asian sides because we really need the profile to rise.
The second hope for the distant future is that Taiwan still keep working on the game at all levels domestically to improve it. They are currently doing a very good job, but the fear is that if someone becomes president of the FA, who isn’t willing to try and push things forward, it just goes back to how it was. Right now they have made league teams create youth teams, started three youth leagues, one for girls and two for boys, started a Taiwanese second division and a woman’s league. This progress needs to continue for Taiwan if they’re ever to improve. They also need to not lose sight of the fact that these kind of changes take years to see the fruits of the work, a lot of Asian countries seem to expect instant results.
As well as this, I hope they continue to look to the Taiwanese diaspora, because this would be one quick way of raising the profile of the game, if these players, who are trained and playing at a better level overseas, can come back to Taiwan and perform well for the national team. Take Will Donkin for example, there was so much hype around him, and he didn’t even get out of the Crystal Palace U18s. Now he is playing in Malta for Balzan, which is considered low in Europe but compared to Taiwan it is still mega. If someone like him could develop into a good first team regular in Europe it would really generate a lot of interest in the sport. Therefore Taiwan need to continue looking to the diaspora and getting players abroad to come and play for them if they’re willing to.
A massive 谢谢 to the Mark for answering our questions on the Taiwanese National Team. Remember you can find their excellent account in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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