More than a game
> … as China and Qatar meet in ‘symbolic’ clash <
considered as being among the world’s leading football nations. “The game therefore has huge symbolic meaning.” It is the World Cup where both countries wish to make a mark on the global game. Both have invested heavily to fuel their ambitions. China, which aims to be a footballing superpower by 2050, has spent an estimated US$1 billion (RM4.34b) developing its domestic game, says Chadwick. It harbours hopes of hosting its own World Cup and, one day, winning football’s greatest prize. Qatar is in the middle of transforming itself by splurging US$200 billion-plus (RM868b) to host the 2022 tournament. The stadiums alone for that World Cup will cost some $10 billion (RM43.4b).
Both countries’ ambition also represents a challenge to the established world football order, says China-based Cameron Wilson, founder of the Wild East Football website.
“I think it is clear the balance of power is shifting away from Europe, albeit slowly, and it’s no coincidence that money is a big part of that – neither Chinese nor Qatari football lacks serious financial backing,” Wilson told AFP.
But with ambition comes pressure, and neither nation is responding too well at the moment.
China have one point from their four qualifying games. Their last home match – a 1-0 defeat by Syria in Xi’an – saw angry fans protest in the streets.
World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar are only slightly better off. They have clawed three points from four matches, following a 1-0 victory in Doha last month against Syria.
But only the top two teams from the group qualify automatically for Russia.
Iran head the group with 10 points and Uzbekistan are second with nine. The third-placed team will have a play-off chance to get to Russia, the position currently held by South Korea with seven points.
Emphasising how desperate China and Qatar are to qualify for the 2018 tournament, both have sacked their coaches during the current round of qualifying.
Notably, China have appointed World Cup winningcoach Marcello Lippi on a reputed US$20 million (RM86.8m) -a-year contract to revive hope in their almost moribund World Cup campaign.
Today’s game will be his first big test in charge of “Team Dragon”.
Qatar turned back to popular former coach Jorge Fossati after losing their first two matches in this round of UNITED STATES coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called for his team to harness a sense of anger as they attempt to bounce back from a shattering World Cup defeat to Mexico against Costa Rica tomorrow morning.
Klinsmann’s men suffered an agonising last-gasp loss to Mexico in Columbus on Friday, when Rafa Marquez’s 89th-minute header secured a dramatic 2-1 win for ‘El Tri’ at the Mapfre Stadium.
The defeat was a cruel blow for the US in the opening round of final 2018 World Cup qualifiers for the CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean) region.
While there remain plenty of points to play for in the six-nation round robin, the US are desperate to avoid losing further ground to Mexico and Costa Rica, their biggest rivals for the automatic qualification spots.
The top three finishers in the “Hexagonal” qualify automatically for the finals with the fourth placed team entering a playoff.
Klinsmann said his side will need to channel their anger if they are to get a result against the Costa Ricans, the 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists who opened their campaign with 2-0 away win over Trinidad and Tobago on Friday.
“We need a sense of anger in all of us and absolutely a sense of urgency because we don’t want to be behind in the group,” Klinsmann said.
“All these qualifying games are nail-biters, they are all difficult, and that is what the players are prepared for.”
The former Germany striker said he had given his team a straightforward message following the Mexico result. qualifying, despite storming through the last stage. Lippi said he and the Chinese nation are hoping for a miracle. Fossati is insistent that whatever happens in Kunming will not be decisive. “We are very optimistic about the result of the game in China, but it is not a definitive game,” he said before his team flew out. Last week China played a behind closed doors friendly in preparation for today’s match. In contrast, Qatar beat Russia 2-1 in Doha in a match broadcast live on television. “We wanted to help Marcello if he wanted to watch the game,” joked Fossati. Defeat today and the costs could be high. For Qatar, it could mean the end of any hope of qualifying for their first World Cup before they host in 2022, and showing a sceptical footballing world they deserve to host the tournament. China could pay a price off the pitch, says Chadwick, where continued football failure could unleash the “potential for political and socio-cultural fallout at home”. – AFP
“The message is simple,” Klinsmann said. “We have got to go there and get a result, which we will do. (Friday) was the first of 10 qualifying games. I told the players we are going to correct it in Costa Rica.
“It is just part of the qualifying process. It is a long road over 10 games. It is not a problem but obviously it is disappointing.”
US captain Michael Bradley was adamant the team had the resilience to get back on track against the Costa Ricans.
“It’s time for us to recover mentally and physically and get ready for a very important game on Tuesday (early Wednesday morning in Malaysia),” Bradley said.
The US suffered an injury blow against Mexico on Friday with goalkeeper Tim Howard injuring a groin while taking a goal kick. He won’t travel to Costa Rica, with Brad Guzan is likely to start in goal.
Klinsmann meanwhile came under fire for starting the Mexico game with an unfamiliar 3-4-3 tactical line-up, which was quickly ditched midway through the game in favour of the team’s tried and trusted 4-4-2.
Marquez’s winner came after a second half in which the US had dominated, and were unlucky not to have scored. Klinsmann said his team’s second-half performance in Columbus offered cause for optimism against ‘Los Ticos’.
“I think if we pick up that second half and play that way against Costa Rica, I’m not worried Tuesday (early Wednesday morning in Malaysia),” Klinsmann said.
In other CONCACAF qualifiers on Wednesday, Panama host Mexico while Trinidad & Tobago travel to Honduras. – AFP