There were two major surprises when China’s final 23-man squad for the Asian Cup was confirmed on Tuesday, as Guangzhou Evergrande’s defensive pair of Feng Xiaoting and Li Xuepeng were both left off of the list.
The 29-year-old, who has won over 40 caps for his country, is a veteran of Evergrande’s 2013 Champion’s League triumph and is generally considered to have performed well for club and country over the past twelve months.
His absence, along with that of teammate Li Xuepeng, leaves China’s centre back position with a serious lack of experience. Zhang Linpeng, who more commonly plays right back for his club, seems guaranteed to start and will be partnered by either Guangzhou Evergrande teammate Mei Fang, or one of the Jiangsu Sainty pairing of Ren Hang or Li Ang. However, Mei only has six international caps and rarely starts for Evergrande; Ren usually plays left wing-back in the Super League; and the 21-year-old Li has only one international cap to his name and was playing for the Olympic team just last month.
Li was called up along with fellow Olympic team prospects Liao Lisheng and Liu Binbin, and they will be a major reason that the average age of Perrin’s squad is so low – just 24.4 years. Captain Zheng Zhi is the only player over thirty, and it will be no surprise to learn that in such a young squad only eight players have previous Asian Cup experience.
Despite Feng and Li’s omissions, it is Guangzhou Evergrande are still most heavily represented with seven players in the contingent. They are trailed by mid-table Super League side and FA Cup runners-up Jiangsu Sainty who are handing over six of their assets for international duty. Shandong Luneng, who beat Sainty in that final, will send four players, including Yang Xu who spent the second half of last season on loan with Changchun Yatai. Shanghai SIPG will be represented by three products of their much vaunted youth system, while Super League runner-up, Beijing Guo’an, 2015 Champions’ League debutants Guangzhou R&F and 2013 FA Cup winners Guizhou Renhe will all furnish the national team with just a solitary player.
There are few who think China will manage to get further than the quarter-finals in Australia, so it looks as though this may be a side selected with one eye on the next cycle of World Cup qualifiers. However, whatever Perrin’s motivations are, it will be interesting to see how his youthful side stack up against some of the best in Asia. The good news is, it is now only 18 days until their first game against Saudi Arabia kicks off in Brisbane, so we won’t have to wait long to find out.
23-man squad listed in the players most common international positions.
Goalkeepers: Zeng Cheng (Guangzhou Evergrande), Wang Dalei (Shandong Luneng), Fan Yunling (Shanghai SIPG).
Defenders: Zhang Linpeng, Mei Fang (all Guangzhou Evergrande), Ji Xiang, Ren Hang, Li Ang (all Jiangsu Sainty), Jiang Zhipeng (Guangzhou R&F), Zhang Chengdong (Beijing Guo’an)
Midfielders: Zheng Zhi, Yu Hanchao, Liao Lisheng (all Guangzhou Evergrande), Liu Jianye, Sun Ke, Wu Xi (all Jiangsu Sainty), Cai Huikang, Wu Lei (both Shanghai SIPG), Hao Junmin, Liu Binbin, (both Shandon Luneng), Yu Hai (Guizhou Renhe),
Forwards: Gao Lin (Guangzhou Evergrande), Yang Xu (Shandong Luneng)