Saudi Arabia pose big challenge for China at Asian Cup
Coach Alain Perrin has set his sights on a rebuilding job ahead of the AFC Asian Cup finals in Australia next year after China were on Wednesday drawn to face three-time Asian champions Saudi Arabia in Sydney.
Uzbekistan, semi-finalists in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, and North Korea will round out group B when the tournament kicks off in January, but it will be the Saudis that present the greatest challenge for Perrin and his team after the two countries faced off in the qualifying rounds.
Saudi Arabia won the first of those matches 2-1 in Dammam before the teams drew 0-0 in the return in Xian, and they will meet again in their opening match of group C action on January 10 in Brisbane.
"I am the new coach, so I must build a new team with some new young players. I have one year to prepare to find a good balance between the old and experienced, and new and young players," said the Frenchman, who took on the role at the start of this month. "After that, we have to work hard to reach our target to make the next round."
China qualified for the finals despite losing the final match in the preliminary rounds against Iraq - their first under the control of Perrin - with the national team progressing to the finals as the best third-placed team.
The Saudis topped the group with 2007 champions Iraq taking second as a result of their 3-1 win over China in Dubai on March 5.
China's struggles on the international front are such that expectations will be low going into the quadrennial tournament, which China have never won. The country's best performance saw them finish as runners-up in 1984 and 2004.
"People think that if it is not a bad draw, then it must be a good draw. But for a coach, it is not the same - we have to respect the other teams," said Perrin. "The draw is open as this is a championship. Any team can beat any team, so we don't know what can happen ... we need to work very hard.
"The first game is the most important as we play Saudi Arabia - it will be the most challenging."
Tournament hosts Australia will meet South Korea, Oman and Kuwait in group A, while reigning champions Japan take on Jordan, Iraq and the winners of May's AFC Challenge Cup in group D. Iran headline group C, alongside the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.