China fall­ing short in match­ing pres­i­den­tial as­pi­ra­tion

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

CHINA’S lengthy ex­ile from the top ta­ble of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball looks set to con­tinue for at least another six years un­less Gao Hongbo can de­liver a ma­jor turn­around in for­tunes af­ter a mis­er­able start to the fi­nal round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing.

While moves in­spired by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to turn the coun­try into a dom­i­nant player in the sports mar­ket­ing sec­tor con­tinue apace, and the cash-rich club scene flour­ishes, there has been no up­turn for the na­tional team.

Xi’s “three wishes” for Chi­nese foot­ball are that the coun­try qual­i­fies for another World Cup af­ter their first and only ap­pear­ance in 2002, host a World Cup and even­tu­ally win one.

Af­ter three matches out of 10 in the fi­nal round of Asian qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the 2018 fi­nals, how­ever, China have just one point from a goal­less draw at home to Iran.

Their open­ing Group A 3-2 loss to re­gional pow­er­house South Korea might have been ex­pected but the 1-0 re­verse they suf­fered at the hands of Syria on a rainy night in Xian last Thurs­day was not.

That de­feat means to­day’s meet­ing with Uzbek­istan in Tashkent looms as a “must-win” match for the Chi­nese if they are to force their way back into the reck­on­ing for a top-two spot in the group that car­ries with it a ticket to Rus­sia.

Iran and South Korea cur­rently oc­cupy those spots on seven points fol­lowed by Uzbek­istan (six) and Syria (four) with China lan­guish­ing in fifth place with their soli­tary point.

While there is also the pos­si­bil­ity of se­cur­ing a World Cup berth via two play­offs by fin­ish­ing third, the Chi­nese look al­most cer­tain to be vy­ing with the Uzbeks for that spot.

“We have only lost two games out of to­tal of 10, which means we still have our chance of qual­i­fy­ing,” Gao, who re­turned for a sec­ond stint as coach in Fe­bru­ary af­ter the dis­missal of French­man Alain Perrin, said af­ter the shock loss in Xian.

“It is not true that we are los­ing hope af­ter los­ing two matches. Our ex­pe­ri­ence tells us that as long as we fight un­til the last sec­ond, we will have op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We are very lucky to reach this phase, and we have to give our ap­pre­ci­a­tion to all our sup­port­ers. To be frank, we are among the weaker sides in the 12 teams. In this game we wanted three points so badly, but we weren’t able to achieve it.” – Reuters

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