Asian Cup Preview: Battle for First

China vs. Iran 18:20 kickoff tv coverage: CCTV-5 live from Kuala Lumpur

Tonight China has its second, and arguably most important, game in the Asian Cup group stage, facing off against Iran. China will be looking to follow up its drubbing of Malaysia with a good result against Iran, while Iran will be out for revenge after China knocked them out of the 2004 Asian Cup in the semis.

China was dominant, but not exactly impressive despite the one sided score line, in their opener. Iran was able to pull out a 2-1 victory against Uzbekistan that was workmanlike and not overly impressive. These two sides have long been considered the favorites to advance out of the group stages with Iran seen as one of the stronger teams in the competition. China coach Zhu Guanghu will probably stick with his 4-5-1 and put out a relatively defensive side, looking to poach a goal on the counterattack and otherwise walk away with a draw and one point, which will put China in a solid position to advance.

Expect almost the same lineup as last game. The only question will be what Zhu does in the midfield. Last game, Zhou Haibin was non-existant at center mid, I predict Zhu will give the start to Li Tie, despite Tie zi's weak performance as a sub in the Malaysia game. The alternative would be to play Zhao Xuri or stick with Zhou. On the wing, Wang Dong had 2 goals and an assist last game, but there are fears that his lack of speed will hurt China against the stronger Iranian side. Zhu could choose to put in young Zhu Ting on the wing or even play Dong Fangzhou in this position, though its not a position he's played a lot.

My prediction: Being optimistic, I'm predicting a very defensive game resulting in a very boring 1-0 victory for China.

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