Alain Perrin and Fu Bo take joint charge of the China national team for the side’s final 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier with Iraq to be played in Dubai on Wednesday. Qualification may be virtually assured, but the Team of the Dragon (龙之队）will hope to begin their new era with a positive showing in the Middle East.
Last Time Out
China’s last outings came in November when they earned a 1-0 home victory over Indonesia and a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia to virtually confirm their place in Australia next year. However, both performances left much to be desired and hastened the end of the Fu Bo era as interim head coach.
On away turf, the coming match will be a tougher test for China and an examination of some of those players perhaps lucky to still merit inclusion in the squad. If Perrin was unfamiliar with most prior to this international break, he should learn much about the ability and character of his players on Wednesday.
Iraq, meanwhile, played a warm-up match in preparation for the coming tie just a fortnight ago, overcoming DPR Korea by a 2-0 scoreline. Given the advances made in Iraqi football over recent years, China can be assured of a far from easy end to the qualification campaign.
Causes for Optimism…
Thanks to Asian Cup qualifying allowing one third place side to advance to the tournament, China have a great chance of achieving qualification even if they should lose in Dubai.
However, there remains some peril. Lebanon are the only side who can catch China and would move level on points if they secure an away win against Thailand, the whipping boys of Group B. China currently boast a six goal lead on goal difference (+1 to Lebanon’s -5), but any sizeable defeat to Iraq would leave them in big trouble.
The odds are heavily in Guozu‘s favour, but they cannot afford to be complacent or the failure to secure an away win in Indonesia could come to prove costly.
… and for Concern
Suspension deprives Perrin of the use of two of his best defenders in Sun Xiang and Zhang Linpeng, both of whom would have been almost certain starters for the tie. Zhang, in particular, has been hugely important to the national team at centre-back since forming a partnership with club captain Zheng Zhi at the East Asian Cup last summer.
Regular goalkeeper Zeng Cheng will be out of action also after sustaining a leg injury in training over the weekend which threatens to impact his start to the 2014 campaign.
In come Rong Hao at left-back and experienced centre-back Feng Xiaoting in a much reshuffled defensive line. Late call-up Wang Dalei, meanwhile, is set to start in goal ahead of Beijing Guoan’s Yang Zhi.
The side’s general lack of match fitness will also be a worry, with the 2014 Chinese Super League season only set to commence next weekend.
Watch Out For
The most interesting element of the encounter for Chinese fans will be to observe how Perrin sets up his team and, indeed, how he responds to changes in the dynamic of the game.
While their were encouraging elements to the national side’s play under Fu Bo, it was a justifiable criticism that he was cautious in his selection and use of substitutions. Games that were within China’s grasp slipped by as the interim coach dawdled on the sidelines.
In the pre-match suggested lineup, Perrin would appear to have opted for experience in his first selection, choosing to ignore the claims of the attacking midfield trio of Sun Ke, Wu Lei, and Zhang Xizhe who offered signs of hope for the future in 2013.
Expected China Lineup
(4-2-3-1) Wang Dalei; Wu Xi, Feng Xiaoting, Zheng Zhi, Rong Hao; Yang Hao, Huang Bowen; Gao Lin, Wang Yongpo, Yu Hanchao; Yu Dabao.
China face a tough task in Dubai against an Iraq side that will be desperate for qualification and in far more familiar conditions. Indeed, China’s record in the Middle East over recent years is far from ideal.
A draw would be a great result for China, but would leave Iraq hoping for other results to fall in their favour. The hosts, then, will be pushing hard to secure victory.
A point would be seen as a positive start to the Perrin era, with Chinese expectations of the national side still incredibly low. The manner of the performance, rather than the result, will be the factor on which many in the Middle Kingdom judge the side on this occasion.
Iraq 11/10 (favourites), Draw 11/5, China 13/5 (Bet365 per Oddschecker.com.)
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