Matchday Three of World Cup Qualifying in Asia is upon us and most of the attention is on Iraq as FIFA overruled its earlier decision and will allow the Iraqis to continue on their qualifying campaign. China goes to Qatar for a dual in Doha in a match that is very much a must win for China if it wants to keep its qualifying dreams alive.
This Group of Death has lived up to its name as no team has really come forward. China struggled to get a draw with Iraq and then outplayed Australia, though that match ended in a draw as well. Qatar got creamed by Australia, but then went out and solidly beat Iraq. Finally, those plucky Iraqis, perhaps bolstered by the fact they're still in the competition, went to Australia yesterday and gave the Aussies a fight, though they still fell 1-0 in the end.
Both China and Qatar are coming off 2-0 wins in recent friendlies, China's over Jordan and Qatar's over Lebanon. Any time a Chinese squad travels to the Gulf, weather is a concern, especially this time of year, but the Chinese coach believes his squad can overcome the conditions. They will also need to overcome the red hot Sebastian Soria, who has scored a number of goals for the Qataris recently.
The Chinese squad has high hopes for this match and wants to win for the people of China and particularly the Sichuan earthquake victims. Whether this will work as an inspiration or added pressure is yet to be seen. This match will kick off a very busy month as the two squads will finish their match today and quickly head to China for a rematch in Tianjin on Saturday, the 7th. A week after that, the Iraqis come to Tianjin and a week later, China goes to Sydney to face the Australians.
This group is still up for grabs, though it will all be decided in the next 3 weeks. China has a good shot at advancing, but it all begins with a win tonight in Doha, without that, it will take 3 wins in the final 3 matches, an uphill battle, especially considering the final game is in Australia.
It all begins tonight for China (or technically tomorrow) with a start time of 00:00 Beijing time (on 6/3). Sina's projected lineup is a 451 (or more likely a 4411):
Goalie: Zong Lei
Defense: Sun Xiang, Li Weifeng, Xu Yunlong, Zhang Shuai
Midfield: Zhu Ting, Zhou Haibin, Zheng Zhi, Sun Jihai, Hao Junmin
Forward: Han Peng
Prediction: The optimist in me wants to believe China can pull out a victory, so 1-0 to China.