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Soccer: China Call up Overseas Players for Qualifier
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China's national team will assemble today in Xianghe, Hebei Province, in preparation for this month's Asian Cup qualifier against minnows Singapore.


Despite the modest opponents, the confidence-lacking team has still called up its four Europe-based players for the game.


Though topping Group E on goals scored after two matches, an unconvincing win against Palestine and a surprising defeat to Iraq has created pressure, making the August 16 clash in the northern port city of Tianjin a must-win match to bolster qualification chances.


The group is now wide open as all four teams stand on three points after two matches.


The top two advance to next year's finals co-hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam.


Due to club duties in the China Super League, China Football Association Cup and also the East Asian Club A3 League for some of the squad, only 13 players will be present at the first training day.


Four overseas players -- Energie Cottbus midfielder Shao Jiayi, Royal Antwerp striker Dong Fangzhuo, Manchester City defender Sun Jihai and former Everton midfielder Li Tie, now at Premiership newcomers Sheffield United, also have to train and prepare for their clubs' new seasons, and only by August 13 will the 26-man squad all join up.


When asked if it was necessary to recall the four overseas-based players, head coach Zhu Guanghu said he had to ensure the qualifier was won.


"My aim is to lead the team to the finals," he said. "We have to take every opponent seriously. We have to respect other teams."


Zhu said they could never look down upon group rivals.


"Do not forget we lost to Iraq while Singapore won the match against Iraq in the group matches," he said.


"Two years ago, South Korea only drew with the Maldives."


The 2004 Asian Cup runners-up will also play a warm-up friendly against Thailand on August 10.


Zhu has been comforted by the fact striker Li Jinyu, now the leading scorer with 21 goals in the domestic league, is in good form and he will partner Dong in attack in a team that often struggles to find the net.


The team's playmaker Zheng Zhi, serving a three-match suspension from international fixtures after verbally abusing and spitting at a referee in the away leg of an Asian Champions League game in Saudi Arabia last September, has been omitted from the squad.


(China Daily August 3, 2006)

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