China making it into the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup has finally given the country’s long-suffering fans something to shout about.
Fifteen years have passed since China were last amongst the twelve countries taking part in this final qualifying round.
That was when they made it into their first and only World Cup finals in 2002.
Everything now seems very different as the Asian giants look to book their place at the 2018 Russia World Cup.
Just one day after qualifying, the country’s media and football fans found themselves a new national hero.
China qualified on the back of a home win against Qatar and another three results going their way.
Two of those results were expected: Australia taking all three points at home to Jordan and Oman failing to beat Iraq by five or more clear goals.
The miracle came courtesy of two late goals set up by Javier Patino (84th and 90th minutes), gave the Philippines an unexpected home win over North Korea (3-2).
The Spanish-born Philippines striker has become a new ‘Chinese’ hero after that game, clearly evident in the video above of Patino arrving back in China to re-join club Henan Jianye.
The Madrid-born forward, who is the only Spaniard in the Chinese Super League, appears to be owed a huge debt of gratitude by an entire nation.
As a China-based player, the local populace sees him as the personification of the Philippines team whose feat made Team Dragon’s qualification possible.
The nation’s media have echoed the new Chinese hero’s impressive performance and publicly thanked ‘Haweier’ for his services.
© 2016 Marca | This article first appeared in Marca on 30 March 2016.