Will China qualify for 2018 World Cup?

By Stuart Wiggin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail CRI, April 14, 2016
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Windsor John, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) General Secretary, displays a draw for China during the official draw for the final round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup football Asian qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 12, 2016. [Photo: Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung]

Following the release of a plan on Monday by the National Reform and Development Commission (NRDC) that saw China pledge to transform the national Chinese football team into a footballing superpower by 2050, Chinese fans of the sport now know what the next step is in what will surely be a long and arduous task of achieving world-class status; following the draw for the third round of qualifying within the Asian zone for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The grandiose scheme outlined in a 14 page document also aims to produce 50 million players (of an unspecified standard) by 2020, create 1 pitch for every 10,000 people by 2030, and see the men's and women's national teams be among Asia's best over the course of the next 15 years.

While these are indeed sensible goals attached to a sensible time frame, the drawing of the AFC qualifying third round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will of course cause many to look again to the short term, and ultimately whether China can make it to the Finals. If China were to qualify for only their second World Cup Finals ever, weary supporters of the national side may finally believe that plans such as those published earlier this week may actually start coming to fruition. However, the release of the plan by the NRDC is just as likely to increase expectations amongst Chinese fans as football is once again thrust into the spotlight under President Xi Jinping's watch. But how likely is qualification?

China has been drawn alongside Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Syria and Qatar in Group A of the third round qualifiers. Elsewhere, Group B consists of Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand. Though China dodged a bullet by avoiding the strong sides of Japan and Australia, Iran and South Korea pose considerable tests for them in Group A. But there still remains some cause for optimism among Chinese fans, buoyed by the fact that the top two teams of each group will qualify automatically. Essentially, China crept into the third round of qualifying after being the fourth best runner up in the second round group stages. They trailed Qatar in their group, despite gaining a 2-0 victory over the team, which ultimately helped China clinch qualification. This victory, alongside 6-0 and 12-0 thrashings of lowly Bhutan will have shored up confidence within the side as they get set to take a step up in terms of competition.

There are two clear favorites within Group A, namely Iran, the highest ranked team in the AFC, and South Korea. Iran handily topped their AFC qualifying second round group with 6 wins and 2 draws against teams of a much lesser quality. Similarly, South Korea topped their group, though they managed to achieve a perfect record throughout with 8 wins against arguably inferior sides. To say that these teams have not been tested yet might be an understatement and China will be hoping that South Korea's international inconsistency pays a visit over the course of 12 months between September of this year until September of the next.

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