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Team China determined to overcome latest upheaval

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-03 06:47
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Loss of home advantage in Suzhou throws spanner in works for Li's men

Losing home advantage overnight, adjusting to a new match schedule and facing the hassle of international travel under the cloud of COVID-19, Team China's already challenging World Cup qualifying bid has suddenly become even tougher. Li Tie's squad, however, remains as determined as ever to beat the odds.

Around 30,000 fans roared on Team China to victory over Guam in Suzhou on Sunday, however, the squad's remaining Group A games were on Monday switched to the United Arab Emirates. [Photo/Xinhua]

"Under the circumstances, we believe all the changes are the best arrangements for us. All we can do now is remain united, fighting our way forward," Team China head coach Li wrote on his personal Weibo account on Monday following the switching of the team's remaining Group A games from Suzhou to the United Arab Emirates.

"I was touched to read the comments online that wherever the fans are, that stadium will become Team China's home venue. I really want to thank the support from all the fans.

"My dream was to join the national team when I started to play soccer as a kid. And becoming a national team member is the highest honor for any player or coach."

A fervent 30,000-strong crowd roared China onto a 7-0 victory over Guam on Sunday at Suzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium.

Fans were raring to cheer on the team at three more matches in Suzhou until the Chinese Football Association on Monday revealed an outbreak of infections in the Maldives and Syria squads meant both teams failed to get permission to enter China.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in agreement with the CFA, has moved the remaining seven Group A matches to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

"These are indeed unprecedented times for everyone, and, on behalf of the AFC, I would like to thank the UAE FA for agreeing to host the Group A matches of the Asian qualifiers," said AFC secretary-general Windsor John.

"The UAE FA's commitment to host the matches within such a short lead time is testament to their spirit of understanding and organizational excellence, and we are confident that they will provide the best possible environment for our teams and players.

"The AFC outlined its desire to ensure the safe and successful resumption of the Asian qualifiers and we are determined to deliver on our plans, keeping in mind the highest health protocols, for the benefit of all our participating teams, players, fans and key stakeholders."

The CFA on Monday announced that ticket-holders for the Suzhou matches are eligible for a full refund.

According to the revised schedule, Team China will face the Philippines next, on Monday, before taking on the Maldives and Syria on June 11 and 15 respectively. According to reports, Team China will fly to the UAE on Thursday.

The loss of home advantage is undoubtedly a blow to China's chances of reaching the next phase of Asian zone qualifying. China is second in Group A, trailing Syria by five points.

The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will enter the next phase of qualifying.

Sunday's triumph was Li's first official match in charge since he took the reins in early 2020. Team China was unable to play any international matches in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Core players, such as Espanyol striker Wu Lei and China's naturalized stars, have had limited opportunities to train together due to a combination of travel restrictions and injuries.

However, Sunday's rout has instilled an extra measure of hope in the Chinese squad that the dream of reaching the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar could yet be attainable.

"That victory is a day I will never forget," Brazil-born naturalized star A Lan, who hit the net twice on Sunday, wrote in Chinese on social media. "Without doubt, that was indeed the most memorable day of my career. I experienced very mixed emotions. It felt like it was the first match of my career.

"The fans created an atmosphere that was like a grand party for us. It was a great honor for me to score two goals in my debut as a Team China player. I will never forget this day.

"I want to thank the support of my family. For the past year, my wife and children have not been with me. It's hard for us. I hope that we will reunite shortly.

"Now we will keep fighting and we will fight for the same goal of qualifying for the World Cup."

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