Soccer: China falling short in matching presidential aspiration

Mon Oct 10, 2016 1:18am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's lengthy exile from the top table of international soccer 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 sports 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 soccer are that the country qualifies for another World Cup after their first and only appearance in 2002, host a World Cup and eventually win one.

After three matches out of 10 in the final round of Asian qualification for the 2018 finals, however, China have just one point from a goalless draw at home to Iran.

Their opening Group A 3-2 loss to regional powerhouse 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" match 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.

Iran and South Korea currently occupy those spots on seven points followed by Uzbekistan (six) and Syria (four) with China languishing in fifth place with their solitary point.

While there is also the possibility of securing a World Cup berth via two playoffs 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 total of 10, which means we still have our chance of qualifying," Gao, who returned for a second stint as coach in February after the dismissal of Frenchman Alain Perrin, said after the shock loss in Xian.   Continued...

Football Soccer - China v Syria - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Asia Zone - Round 3 Group A - Xi'an, China - 6/10/16 - Team China listen to national anthem behind a Chinese national flag ahead of the match. REUTERS/Stringer