DOHA — After a series of disappointing results in recent years, China captain Du Wei insists that football in the world's most populous country is on the rise again.
China's squad at the Asian Cup is the youngest in the team's history, and after a number of breakthroughs in 2010 there is a renewed air of optimism around the continent's perennial under-achievers.
They beat Kuwait 2-0 in their opening game before falling by the same score to hosts Qatar, leaving them with a big test of their credentials against a powerful Uzbekistan later Sunday.
Du was in the starting line-up four years ago when the Chinese lost 3-0 to the Uzbeks in Kuala Lumpur to miss out on the knockout stage of the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years.
But the 28-year-old is avoiding any comparison between 2007 and now.
"The past is already the past and the China team now is different. In 2007, the situation was completely different because we brought a different team to the Asian Cup," he told the Asian Football Confederation website.
"Of course, it was a bit disappointing to go out so early in the last Asian Cup but that?s just something that happens in football tournaments."
Half of Gao Hongbo's squad this time round is under 23 and Du sees a lot of positive signs.
"Comparing this team with the one that went to the World Cup in 2002, I think that there are quite a lot of similarities," said Du, a veteran of that campaign in South Korea and Japan.
"I think that the team is united and the atmosphere among the players is very good.
"There are a lot of reasons why we have not done well recently and failed to qualify for the last two World Cups, but we are working hard to improve the team.
"Of course there are problems that we have to work out but I believe that Chinese football is getting better and better."
And Du accepts that he and fellow World Cup 2002 veteran, midfielder Qu Bo, have a huge role to play as mentors to the younger players.
"Qu Bo and I are the big brothers on this team because we are older than the other players and we have the experience of playing at the World Cup," he said.
"We want to help the young players and we are trying our best to help to build the team for the future."