China aim for Asian Cup berth as new era starts
While Alain Perrin takes over as manager, Fu Bo will still run the show against Iraq in Sharjah
China will aim to secure qualification for the finals of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia next year with Alain Perrin coming in for Wednesday night's crunch clash against former champions Iraq in Sharjah, as yet another new era beckons.
The former Lyon, Marseilles and Portsmouth manager was the surprise choice last week to take over full time from caretaker boss Fu Bo - who had taken the reins after the enforced conclusion of the abysmal tenure of Juan Antonio Camacho - and the Frenchman has a simple task ahead.
Draw with the 2007 Asian champions and China will guarantee themselves a shot at the continental title when the finals are held in January; indeed, even a defeat might not end China's hopes of a place among the 16 finalists.
However, while Perrin has been drafted in to take charge of the team for the long term, the 57-year-old is prepared to allow coach Fu to run the show in Sharjah.
"I respect the interim coach Fu Bo and his team very much," said Perrin when he was appointed last week. "At the moment our priority is not to impact the team with this change too much.
"I won't interfere with Fu Bo's training and work before and during the game against Iraq. He will see through this match. I believe the Chinese coaching team can get the job done in this game."
The top two nations in each of the five groups will join hosts Australia, defending champions Japan and 2011 AFC Asian Cup third-placed finishers South Korea at the finals, alongside the winners of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup - North Korea - and the winners of the 2014 edition of the competition.
And with the best third-placed team across the five qualifying groups also earning a spot at the finals, should China avoid losing heavily to Hakeem Shakir's side in Sharjah, the national team's record compared to those of Syria, Malaysia, Lebanon and Hong Kong is likely to be good enough to take them through.
Fu took over following Camacho's removal and led the team to a draw against Indonesia before picking up all three points in the return against the Southeast Asians. His team then eked out another draw against Saudi Arabia, the leaders in group C who have already booked their spot in the draw, which will take place on March 26 at the Sydney Opera House.