Time for China to rise again, insists Bora

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 January, 2011, 12:00am

As the last man to taste success of any real significance with China's national team, Bora Milutinovic's opinion continues to carry weight.

The wily Serb qualified China for the World Cup for the first - and only - time in 2002 and remains a passionate observer of all things related to the national team. So when the 66-year-old declares it is time for China to rise up once again, those words carry significant weight.

'I think China needs to come back to be an important team at this excellent occasion,' said Milutinovic, alluding to China's lack of success in recent years. 'They have prepared well and they have a good balance between youth and experience.

'When I watch this team and I see the names of Du Wei and Qu Bo, it's a special sensation because they started to play with me 10 years ago when I was China coach. It's very exciting.

'It's also time for China to come back and be an important team in this continent.'

China remain the great enigma of Asia. They have never won the Asian Cup, going closest in 1984 and 2004 when they finished as runners-up to Saudi Arabia and Japan respectively, but it has been China's slump in form over the past five years that has been most alarming.

They failed to progress to the final round of Asia's qualifying for the 2006 World Cup finals, having qualified for the 2002 edition under Milutinovic, and that poor form continued at the 2007 Asian Cup.

Then, China missed out on a place in the knockout phase of the competition to Iran and Uzbekistan, while worse was to follow during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals, when they slumped even before the final round of qualifying for South Africa.

With match-fixing allegations blighting the domestic league and the Chinese Football Association in disarray, the state of football has been tumultuous at best. There have been some rays of light, though, including China's win at the East Asian Championship in Japan last February.

Gao Hongbo's team registered a first-ever win over South Korea - a fine 3-0 victory - while a draw with Japan saw China put up impressive performances against two countries that would go on to reach the second round of the World Cup finals.

Gao's squad for the Asian Cup leans heavily on the one that lifted the East Asian title, where youngsters such as Deng Zhuoxiang and Yu Hai came to prominence and which also secured a morale-boosting win over France prior to the World Cup finals.

Following their arrival in Doha, the Chinese notched up a 3-2 win in a closed-door game against reigning Asian champions Iraq as Gao took a final look at his squad before their opening game against Kuwait on Saturday.

Kuwait, a country on an upward swing after a decade of disappointment, will be no pushover having recently won both the West Asian Championship and the prestigious Gulf Cup, the most keenly contested tournament in the Middle East.

Hosts Qatar have also been drawn to face China in group A and Bruno Metsu's team will entertain Uzbekistan in the tournament's opener tomorrow at the Khalifa Stadium.

'All 16 teams are close and everyone has a chance to win. I think luck will be very important,' said Gao. 'Kuwait are very good at the minute and Qatar have a lot of new faces, but we don't know much about Uzbekistan. We just know it will be tough.'

Australia was confirmed as the host nation of the 2015 Asian Cup finals yesterday after its uncontested bid was rubberstamped by the Asian Football Confederation's executive committee.