China wins first Winter Paralympics medal, while soccer team loses 6-0 to Wales

The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature in which China Sports Insider Mark Dreyer looks at the week that was in the China sports world.

Gareth Bale might not quite have the same star power in China as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but China’s national team certainly seemed star struck last night as Bale and his Welsh teammates tore them apart in the opening game of the China Cup in Nanning. Bale scored twice in the first 21 minutes, completed his hat trick just after the hour mark, and masterminded a 6-0 rout of the hosts that could have been even worse if Wales hadn’t eased off in the final half hour.

The Real Madrid star’s three goals means he is now his country’s record goalscorer, but this performance must rank as one of China’s worst in recent memory. While China’s World Cup qualifying campaign ended in disappointment despite a late run of results, last night’s opposition is hardly a powerhouse of international football. Like China, Wales has only ever played in one World Cup and — again, like China — will also be watching this summer’s tournament from afar. Some have pointed to Wales’ surprising run to the semifinals of Euro 2016 as evidence that it is in a different class, but its recent form has been wretched: the six goals it scored last night equaled the number it scored in the whole of last year.

A lot of nonsense has been talked about the future of Chinese football — with a favorite myth being that Xi Jinping has set China the goal of winning the World Cup by 2050 (he hasn’t) — but on this showing, China would be well advised to keep bottling it during qualifying campaigns so as to save itself the greater humiliation of capitulating like this on the World Cup stage.

There is somewhat better news for China in women’s ice hockey, with Kunlun Red Star (KRS) — one of the two Shenzhen-based teams that entered this year’s North American-based Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) — having qualified for the Clarkson Cup, a one-off game this weekend that will determine the league’s champion. After making the playoffs in its debut season, KRS suffered a tough 3-0 loss in its opening playoff game against the lower-seeded Calgary Inferno, before an overtime goal from Stephanie Anderson gave KRS a 3-2 win in Game 2, setting up a decider in the best-of-three series. That turned into a classic. In the longest game in CWHL history — 114 minutes — Finnish goalie Noora Raty had a staggering 66 saves before Alex Carpenter finally broke the deadlock for a historic 1-0 victory.

Perhaps surprisingly, reigning champions Les Canadiennes de Montreal was swept in the other playoff series, meaning that KRS will face the Markham Thunder — the lowest-ranked playoff team — in Sunday’s final. There has been some focus in parts of the North American media on the fact that KRS has thrived this season largely on the back of its half-dozen international “ambassadors” — star foreign players from North American and Europe who also serve as part-time coaches and promote the sport in Chinese communities — but the rest of the roster comprises Chinese-born players, with one Chinese defense pairing in particular seeing quality minutes. The ultimate goal of winning gold at home at the 2022 Olympics still remains a long, long way off, but a Clarkson Cup appearance has surely surpassed all but the most optimistic expectations — and a win on Sunday would be the cherry on top of a fantastic first season.

China’s Olympic hockey aspirations: Q-and-A with Shirley Hon of the Kunlun Red Star franchise

China has won its first Winter Paralympics medal in history — and it’s a gold. The Chinese wheelchair curling team edged out Norway 6-5 in an extra end — the sport’s equivalent of overtime — at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games to clinch the title, having already assured it would make history the previous day when it made the final.

A fourth place finish in Sochi four years ago was as close to a medal as any Chinese Winter Paralympic athlete had gotten, but this year’s team was a dominant 9-2 in round-robin play before beating defending champion Canada in the semifinal. China has excelled at the Summer Paralympics, winning more than 1,000 medals in total, and topping the medal table in each of the past four Games. However, despite entering athletes at every Winter Paralympics since 2002, China had previously failed to make the podium.

Also this week:

The China Sports Column runs every Friday on SupChina. Follow Mark Dreyer @DreyerChina.