- The year of the buffalo promises to be particularly challenging for Zhang
- Chinese forward had a successful 2020 with Beijing FC
- He hopes to help the national team return to success in qualifying for Qatar 2022
Chinese New Year kicks off next Friday and officially marks the start of the Year of the Ox. Whether or not one is interested in astrology, the buffalo is considered a symbol of luck in Chinese culture. The year of the buffalo is therefore generally an opportunity to achieve one’s ambitions. That’s good: Zhang Yuning will have a lot of challenges this year, both with PR China and under the colors of Beijing FC.
“I recently celebrated my 24th birthday, which means I’m no longer affected by the U-23 rule [un règlement propre à la Fédération chinoise de football qui exige que les clubs accordent un certain temps de jeu aux joueurs U-23 dans les compétitions nationales]”, explains the striker to FIFA.com. “Now I have to fight for a starting place. I want to improve because I have no more time to waste.”
The year 2021 promises to be crucial for the Chinese squad, still in contention in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ™. Relegated to eight points from Syria, the Team Dragon no longer has a choice; she must win all her matches from March, if she is to hope to continue the adventure. The task promises to be difficult to say the least, but Zhang believes the team can achieve the feat, under the leadership of new manager Li Tie.
“We have four finals to go,” he notes. “The pressure is going to be enormous, but I have no doubts that we can play good games and get the results that are expected of us. We will learn from the lessons of the past and we will spare no efforts to achieve our goals.”
A fate engraved in the stars
The Chinese lunar calendar works on a cycle of twelve years, each year being symbolized by an animal. Each person therefore sees his sign return to the fore every twelve years. However, in Chinese culture, this event is not necessarily seen as an occasion to celebrate, but rather to prove oneself.
Born in January 1997, Zhang has prepared with determination to face the Year of the Rat, which will end in a few hours. If the COVID-19 pandemic has not really made life easier for footballers, he has struggled to make the most of this troubled period. With six goals and four assists, he contributed to Beijing’s second place in Group C of the C-League. On the mainland, Zhang has found the net twice during his club’s journey in the 2020 AFC Champions League, interrupted in the quarter-finals. Beyond the numbers, his performances have confirmed his status as a great hope for Chinese football.
“Last year, the C-League and the Champions League used centralized formats, due to the pandemic. We had to play in empty stadiums. We missed the support of our fans, but the team has remained united during all these competitions. Our collective performances have benefited from it, ”he emphasizes. “In addition, Beijing has some famous players in its ranks, such as international Yu Dabao or Brazilian Renato Augusto. I learned a lot from them.”
One goal for objective
In a sense, the last year was confirmation for Zhang. Passed by the Hangzhou Greentown training center, he quickly stands out. This special status has earned him the ability to wear the captain’s armband in the U-17 and U-20 selections. In 2015, the young prodigy began a short journey through Europe, which led him to wear the colors of Vitesse, West Bromwich Albion and Werder Bremen, before committing to Beijing in 2019.
“My stay in Europe contributed a lot to my development. I progressed technically and physically. Mentally, too, I became much stronger. I learned to take hard knocks and to bounce back,” says Zhang.
He made his national team debut in 2016. For his first outing with PR China, he scored two goals and an assist in a 4-2 friendly victory over Trinidad and Tobago. Aligned alone at the forefront against IR Iran in qualifying for Russia 2018, he delivered a remarkable performance, which earned him the compliments of Carlos Queiroz, the coach of the Team Melli. However, he still has to unlock his personal counter in a major international competition.
“I hope to become a very complete striker. I don’t want to just score goals; I also have to polarize my team’s attacking play through my calls and passes. I am satisfied because I have achieved a certain consistency there. ‘last year. But I’m still waiting to take a step forward “he concludes
On the occasion of the Chinese New Year, FIFA.com wishes all of its readers a successful and prosperous Year of the Ox.