Saudis stand between China and Asian Cup place
Victory in Xian against the already qualified Saudis would mark a significant achievement for caretaker manager Fu Bo
China can put a lacklustre qualifying campaign behind them and write more positive headlines for the national game by clinching their Asian Cup spot in a game against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Victory in Xian against the already qualified Saudis would put China into their 11th consecutive Asian Cup with a game - a tough away fixture at Iraq - to spare.
It would also mark a significant achievement for caretaker manager Fu Bo, who took over after the dismissal of expensively hired Juan Antonio Camacho.
China are one of six teams who can seal their Australia 2015 berth this week, with Iran, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman also hoping to book their tickets. Chinese football has long suffered on and off the pitch, with a continually disappointing national team and a major corruption scandal in the domestic league.
However, this month Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League, China's first Asian title in 23 years, in a sign that things are looking up.
Progress has been fitful towards Australia 2015, with an away draw against bottom side Indonesia and a tight home win against Iraq leaving mainland fans on tenterhooks.
But last Friday's 1-0 win in the home leg against Indonesia was enough to put Fu's men within sight of one of group C's two qualifying spots.
Fu has now led China on a seven-match unbeaten run, but said their finishing must improve if they are to beat the Saudis for the first time since 1997.
"Our team is improving gradually, gaining experiences from big tournaments," said Fu after the narrow win over Indonesia.
"The Indonesians were very tough and brought us lots of trouble. We still had the old problem of being dominant in the first half but a bit lost in the second."
China's cause may be helped by the fact that the Saudis have already clinched their spot in Australia after a 2-1 victory over Iraq in Dammam last Friday.
Three-time champions Iran could also seal qualification for a 13th consecutive time with an away draw against Lebanon, whom they beat 5-0 at home in their group B opener.
Lebanon are now locked in a battle for group B's second automatic spot with Kuwait, who can go through if they beat Thailand at home and Iran win.
In group A, Oman will advance if they beat Syria in Tehran. Qatar need just a draw against Malaysia in group D.