China ready to rock Laos in World Cup qualifier

Updated: 2011-07-22 08:03

By Tang Zhe (China Daily)

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SHENZHEN - The Chinese national soccer team will play its first World Cup qualifying game against minnow Laos in Kunming, Yunnan province, on Saturday, but head coach Gao Hongbo will be sitting in the stands with the fans.

According to last month's FIFA world rankings, China is ranked No 75, while Laos sits near the bottom end of the table in 174h place. However, the absence of the coach from the sidelines could be of some concern for the host team.

The 45-year-old was sent off the field after antagonizing the referee in the team's last Asian Cup group game against Uzbekistan in Qatar in January, and was suspended for one international game by the Asian Football Confederation. Gao will return to the bench for the away game in Laos on July 28.

Assistant coach Fu Bo attended the pre-game press conference on Thursday and said the Chinese team was brimming with confidence, even if its coach would be looking on from a distance.

"We are stronger than Laos, and we have found out methods to suppress our opponents, such as increasing attacks from the wings," Fu said.

Player Zheng Zhi said the squad was well prepared for its opening qualifying encounter.

China ready to rock Laos in World Cup qualifier

"We are not familiar with Laos but we know, like other countries from southeast Asia, they have delicate footwork, though they are not physically strong," Zheng said. "We will make full use of our strength and skill to win the game and treat the two games as practice for the round-of-20 preliminaries."

China made its only World Cup finals appearance in South Korea and Japan under Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic in 2002, where it lost all three of its games at the group stage and failed to score a goal.

If China defeats Laos in the home-and-away games, it may well become the continent's fifth seed and avoid early encounters with archrivals Japan, Australia, South Korea and Iran in the round-of-20 matches, which would enhance its chances of going to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

The squad, which claimed the 2010 East Asian Championship, but was eliminated at the group stage of this year's Asian Cup, is keen to reverse a string of poor results on the international stage.

China's Under-23 team was knocked out of Asian Zone qualifying for the London Olympics by losing to Oman 4-1 on aggregate last month. The country's women's team, which missed the Women's World Cup in Germany, is expected to struggle to gain one of the two places allocated for Asia against newly-crowned World Cup champion Japan and quarterfinalist Australia.

Also, these coming home-and-away games against Laos are being regarded as Gao's last match in the coaching post as Chinese Football Association (CFA) chief Wei Di has confirmed it is seeking a world-class coach for the national line-up after signing a deal with Dalian Wanda on July 3. The Chinese company has promised to lure a big-name coach to the squad with 40 million yuan ($6.2 million).

"Yes, the CFA is making contact with some foreign coaches," said Wei, who took charge of the association in January of 2010.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/22/2011 page22)