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
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
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
"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)