Asia’s minnows haven’t improved
Over the past decade Europe’s smallest footballing nations have become increasingly competitive. Now even the likes of Liechtenstein and Luxembourg are able to avoid routine drubbings and are increasingly capable of pulling off the occasional shock result against some of Europe’s more established teams.
If China’s opening two World Cup qualifiers show anything, it’s that there has been little improvement amongst Asia’s weakest teams. The Maldives looked no better than they did when China played them in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Guam for the most part were as bad as everyone expected them to be. And have significantly regressed since Gary White’s departure in 2016.
Thankfully China avoided any suspensions ahead of Tuesday’s clash with the Philippines. Frustratingly however they did pick up a number of completely avoidable bookings in the game against the Maldives. Wu Xi, Wei Shihao and Elkeson were all punished for either rash challenges or needless fouls. All three will now have to tread carefully in Bacolod, as a yellow card for any of these players will see them suspended for China’s crunch tie against Syria in November.
While Guam and the Maldives are not the type of opposition for which Elkeson was naturalised for, it was a definite relief to see him amongst the goals in both games. While it’s difficult to gauge from these two matches what sort of an impact he will make long term, we can at least hope that scoring in these games will have helped to ease him into international football.
Hopefully China won’t have to rely on goal difference to progress to the third round. But if they do, racking up big wins like they have against Guam and the Maldives will definitely help. The 5-0 win against the Maldives was better than either of China’s results against them during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. And the 7-0 win again against Guam was Guam’s heaviest defeat in over six years.
Yang Xu’s half-hour hat-trick
It took Yang Xu just twenty-four minutes to complete his hat-trick against Guam and he then added a fourth just seven minutes later. The Tianjin Tianhai striker is something of master of filling his boots against low ranking international opposition. This was his fifth international hat-trick, having completed the feat before against Bhutan (twice), Kyrgyzstan and Laos.
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