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Soccer: Selection Headache for Zhu Guanghu
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An injury crisis has left China vulnerable ahead of its Group E Asian Cup qualifiers at home to Singapore with defenders Sun Jihai, Du Wei and Ji Mingyi all ruled out.

But on the positive side, several overseas-based players will be back, giving a lineup headache to coach Zhu Guanghu.

Shao Jiayi, who plays for Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus, arrived in Tianjin yesterday after the game against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday. The midfielder is expected to lead the national team's attack tomorrow.

Shandong Luneng striker Li Jinyu is likely to start while club teammate Han Peng and Manchester United prospect Dong Fangzhuo will compete for the other striking options. That depends however if Zhu chooses to go with Shao as an attacking midfielder or as a striker.

If Shao plays in the midfield, Li Tie, who moved to Sheffield United from Everton this season, will jostle for starting position with national team regular Zhao Junzhe.

Meanwhile, crisis-hit Lebanon's enforced withdrawal from the qualifying competition has cast a dark cloud over across the region, Reuters reported.

Lebanon pulled out earlier this month because of the heavy damage inflicted on the country by Israeli air strikes. Asian officials approved Lebanon's decision with several players missing amid the devastation.

Lebanon was scheduled to play Bahrain away tomorrow in one of 12 qualifying matches.

Australia faces Kuwait in the other Group D game in Sydney with a young Socceroos side slight favorites to become the first team to qualify for next year's finals.

Kuwait will take heart from the fact Australia go into its first competitive game of the post-Guus Hiddink era with just two members of the squad that reached the last 16 of the World Cup.

Holder Japan will also be expected to take three points at home to Yemen in Group A.

New coach Ivica Osim has named an inexperienced squad unrecognizable from the one that flopped badly at the World Cup under previous coach Zico.

Saudi Arabia will look to keep pace with Japan when it travels to India in the other Group A game.

Iran suffered a blow when playmaker Ali Karimi pulled out of its Group B game with Syria through injury but will still start as a firm favorite to win in front of a partisan crowd in Tehran's Azadi Stadium.

(Shanghai Daily August 15, 2006)

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