More than a game

> … as China and Qatar meet in ‘sym­bolic’ clash <

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.