Chinese players chase their dreams to Portugal
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"It's been worth it given how I have evolved as a player."
Zhou, born in Henan province in central China, idolises Manchester United winger Nani and so is overjoyed to be playing in Massama.
"I could not believe that Nani had practised here as a youngster. I am so proud of stepping on the same pitches as he did," he said with a grin.
Nani grew up in nearby Amadora and, when he was 14, had a three-year spell at Real Massama, the club that regularly hosts the Chinese squad's practices.
The group landed in Portugal with big dreams.
"They are all fans of Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi and always try to mimic their tricks in practice," said Zhu Guanghu, a former China national head coach and one of the project coaches.
"I really hope they fulfil their dreams which are to play in Europe for a big team and, who knows, maybe even in the Champions League one day."
The players are still linked to their clubs in China but signed for a handful of Portuguese lower-tier sides, with whom they play and practise.
Within their busy schedule they also have joint sessions under coaches Gomes and Zhu and play friendlies against local competition.
"The pace of the game is the biggest difference. They play so much faster here in Portugal," said skilful 18-year-old forward Yang Ailong who has adapted well to the change of scale.
The forward remains linked to Chinese Super League club Changchun Yatai, one of the biggest in China's northeastern Jilin province which has a population of some 27 million.
He now plays with neighbourhood club Sacavenense, in Portugal's third division. Portugal's total population is just below 11 million and the Sacavem parish near Lisbon has 18,000 residents.
"Portuguese football is much better than Chinese," said Yang after showing off some skilful tricks in practice. "Thanks to this programme I believe I will be in the (senior) national team one day and maybe stay to play in Europe."
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