China boosted by surprise success over South Korea
The 3-0 victory in Tokyo on Wednesday was China's first over tournament champions South Korea since the two countries began playing full internationals against each other in 1978.
"Is this really the Chinese team?" Beijing TV commentator Wei Yidong said after midfielder Deng Zhuoxiang scored the third with a clinical finish after dribbling past three defenders on the hour mark.
Chinese football has long been regarded as a national disgrace, riddled with corruption, violence, low playing standards and dwindling crowds.
A spate of recent scandals had heightened the sense of crisis, and China's main state-run sports channel had dropped all coverage of the East Asian tournament despite buying the broadcast rights.
"The victory comes so suddenly," said a bemused headline in Thursday's People's Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece. "A historical moment came unintentionally," it added in the story.
More than 20 players, club managers and officials, including the head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and his deputy, have been arrested or detained in the last two months on suspicion of match-fixing or gambling, which is illegal in China.
The victory had come at a crucial time for football in China, the China Daily newspaper quoted Wei Di, who replaced the disgraced Nan Yong as CFA head, as saying.
"The sport currently has many problems and it was not an easy game for the players and coaches," Wei said.
Even China's state-run CCTV, which elected not to cover the tournament, gave a brief report about Wednesday's victory in its midnight news program.
"It was a great loss for CCTV, failing to witness such a historical moment for Chinese soccer," the Oriental Sports Daily newspaper remarked.