Oct 11, 2016

    Tashkent showdown a must-win for China


    CHINA'S lengthy exile from the top table of international football looks set to continue for at least another six years, unless Gao Hongbo can deliver a major turnaround

    in fortunes after a miserable start to the final round

    of World Cup qualifying.

    While moves inspired by President Xi Jinping to turn the country into a dominant player in the sport's marketing sector continue apace, and the cash-rich club scene flourishes, there has been no upturn

    for the national team.

    Xi's "three wishes" for Chinese football are that

    the country qualify for another World Cup after

    their first and only appearance in 2002, host a World Cup and eventually win one.

    Their opening Group A

    3-2 loss to regional powerhouses South Korea might have been expected.

    But the 1-0 reverse they suffered at the hands of Syria on a rainy night in Xian

    last Thursday was not.

    That defeat means Tuesday's meeting with Uzbekistan in Tashkent looms as a "must-win" for the Chinese if they are to force their way back into the reckoning for a top-two spot in the group that carries

    with it a ticket to Russia.

    While there is also the possibility of securing a World Cup berth via two play-offs by finishing third, the Chinese look almost certain to be vying with the Uzbeks for that spot.

    "We have only lost two games out of (a) total of 10, which means we still have

    our chance of qualifying,"

    said Gao.

    "Our experience tells us that as long as we fight until the last second, we will

    have opportunities."