Tonight, China hosts 2 very important World Cup Qualifying matches, the most interesting of which doesn't even feature the host country. Because North Korea refuses to display the South Korean flag and play its anthem, FIFA has moved their match from Pyongyang to Shanghai and whenever those two hook up, its bound to be a grudge match.
While that match deserves attention, Asian soccer fans will be focused on Kunming, where China and Australia will do battle. China has always considered itself one of the better teams in Asia, maybe just below the likes of Japan, Korea, and Iran, however their results haven't always backed that up. Australia (strangely) joined the Asian region hoping for an easier path to the World Cup and automatically deserved adding to the list of Asian powers, yet the Asian Cup provided a rude awakening that Asia wouldn't be a cake walk for them.
Both teams have something to prove and both teams failed miserably in their prep for this match, Australia with a goalless draw against Singapore and China with a 3-3 draw against Thailand. Australia seems to struggle getting up for some matches, though they were able to cruise through their first qualifying match against Qatar, while China struggled to score a late goal to manage a draw on Spring Festival eve against Iraq.
Lucas Neil has chosen to whine, "It's going to be a real challenge," West Ham defender Lucas Neill told Australian media. "Altitude, China away. Probably a dodgy hotel, dodgy food, a dodgy ground — they'll try and do everything they can to test our character" and Australian coach Pim Verbeek tried to take the pressure off his side, saying this game was far more important to China. How China could be eliminated after only playing 2 of 8 matches and with 2 teams going through is anyone's guess.
It's not realistic to expect a win, but the Aussies are missing some key players and it has yet to be seen how mentally prepared they are for this one. While the optimist in me thinks China could pull out a victory, especially if the Aussies aren't up for this one, I really think (or hope) we're looking at a 1-1 draw with the Aussies being unprepared and effected by Kunming's altitude while the Chinese finally come out ready to play. There's a lot of experience in China's lineup and hopefully they can figure a way to get a result.
Projected lineup (as per sina), with 3 changes from the Iraq match and it appears China will use a 4-4-1-1:
Sun Xiang---Li Weifeng---Feng Xiaoting---Zhang Shuai
Shao Jiayi---Zhou Haibin---Wang Dong---Zhu Ting