CHINA is treating its AFL International Cup assignment in Ballarat on Saturday as an historic homecoming.
"Ballarat is the spiritual home for many Chinese in Australia," China's playing coach Jiaming Pi told The Courier.
"I've drilled into the guys the significance of visiting Ballarat."
Chinese had a significant part in the settlement of Ballarat, with many arriving on the goldfields in 1854 in search of their fortune.
For a couple of years the Chinese made up as much as one third of Ballarat's population.
Pi said as the first AFL team from China to play in Australia, this visit had been 150 years in the making.
China plays Finland in the third round of the International Cup as a curtain-raiser to the VFL encounter between North Ballarat and Williamstown at Eureka Stadium at 11.10am.
Williamstown and AFL team Port Adelaide are sponsoring China's visit to Australia.
While the 34-year-old Pi, of Melbourne, has lived in Australia for 20 years, the 30-strong squad is largely made up of second year university students from the south of China where six teams contest a round-robin competition.
Pi said most players were competent athletes in a variety of sports.
"They're a raw lot - raw in footy smarts.
"They're keen. Willing to learn," he said.
China and Finland have each been on the end of two heavy defeats in the opening two rounds of the Cup's men's division, which has attracted 18 nations.
Round 1: Canada 19.5 (119) d China 0.1 (1), USA 27.17 (182) d Finland 0.1 (1)
Round 2: New Zealand 28.25 (193) d China 0.0 (0), Sweden 13.13 (91) d Finland 2.2 (14)
Pi said despite the losses, his players were approaching the game confident of a more competitive performance, given the similarity in the teams' form lines.
The Ballarat visit is part of a community round, with other matches being played at Bendigo, Bulleen, Diggers Rest, Geelong, Box Hill, Craigieburn, Montrose and Mordiallic.
Semi-finals and classification matches will be played on Tuesday and Friday, with the men's and women's grand finals at Punt Road Oval and the MCG respectively on Saturday, August 23.