Soccer: Vicelich sees potential in China

By Kris Shannon

Ivan Vicelich. File photo / NZPA
Ivan Vicelich. File photo / NZPA

The All Whites might not have the same profile as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka but the average football fan in China should be able to identify one of the touring party for Wednesday night's international.

Those with a reasonable football memory will remember the tall figure of 84-cap All White Ivan Vicelich who enjoyed a fruitful five months with then-Chinese Super League club Shenzhen Ruby in the 2010 season.

"I've had a bit of contact from people I met during my time in Shenzhen asking me if I was making the trip across and playing,'' Vicelich said. "Some might recognise me, but my time there was pretty short and sweet.''

Shenzhen finished 12th out of the 16 teams at the conclusion of his stint, with Vicelich playing 14 matches at centre back for Shenzhen.

After his return to New Zealand the Auckland City captain made a prediction about the future of club football in China, comparing it to Japan's J-League which benefited from an influx of older ex-internationals.

Fast-forward two years and the Drogba and Anelka have made the move to the world's most populous nation, kick-starting renewed interest in football after a difficult period for the sport.

"There were already a lot of foreigners when I was there, but what they're doing now is bringing in a few big name ones to create a buzz,'' said Vicelich.

"The potential in China is huge. There was so much room for improvement when I was there and obviously with such a big population and their wealth the ability to do that is a lot easier.''

Vicelich has since been back to China, captaining the All Whites in a 1-1 draw with China in Wuhan in March last year.

"It was a tough game, we got a good result that night after going behind early,'' he said.

Vicelich is predicting a similarly difficult night in front of a potentially packed house at the 33,000-seat Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium.

"With the national team playing in Shanghai it should be buzzing. There's a population of about 23 million so hopefully we get a good crowd.''

- APNZ

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