Fifa World Cup 2018

Tough assignment: Iran and South Korea stand in way of China’s World Cup dream

Syria, Uzbekistan and Qatar also in same group while on the other side of the draw, Australia and Japan are joined by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Thailand in trying to make it to Russia 2018

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 10:22am

Sleeping giants China face a tough assignment against Iran and South Korea in the final stage of regional qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

We need to tackle these opponents with our own style, a speedy game with great variation
China coach Gao Hongbo

War-torn Syria, Uzbekistan and Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, were the other teams drawn in group A when the line-up was decided in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Asian champions Australia and heavyweights Japan are in group B, along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and minnows Thailand.

The top two in each group will qualify for the World Cup in Russia, while two third-placed sides will face each other for the right to play the third-best team from Concacaf (North/Central America) in a final intercontinental play-off.

China are desperate to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002 (when qualification was a lot easier since South Korea and Japan had qualified automatically as hosts). President Xi Jinping has said the country must qualify for, host and win a World Cup.

China coach Gao Hongbo, who replaced outgoing Frenchmen Alain Perrin in February and led the team to two wins to reach the third round, did not attend the draw in Malaysia but sent his assistants.

“The draw was made out of our control and there is no good or bad draw,” he said. “What we need to do next is to sit down and prepare plans for the final stage.

“We are facing quite a number of Middle East nations and therefore we would like to invite other teams from the same region for our two international friendlies in June.

“Also we need to tackle these opponents with our own style, a speedy game with great variation. That’s what we should do.”

Assistant coach Ou Chuliang, who was in Kuala Lumpur, said all 12 teams in the final round were strong sides. “The two groups are very close,” said the former Guangdong goalkeeper. “If we can do a proper job in our preparation, the result won’t be too bad.

“But the domestic league is now very busy and we must schedule everything well so that we can have a good preparation before the qualifiers begin.”

China’s first match is away to South Korea on September 1 before hosting Iran five days later. The 10th and last game will also be away to Qatar on September 5 of next year.

China managed to clinch qualification for the final stage of qualification with a 2-0 win over Qatar in Xian, after two 0-0 draws against Hong Kong had seemed to deal them an irrecoverable blow.

Iran are the highest-ranked team in Asia (42), while Korea (56) will also be formidable opponents. China are ranked 81.

Iran’s highly-regarded Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz predicted South Korea, Japan and Australia would qualify for the World Cup.

“The last one spot will be fought out by Iran, China and Uzbekistan,” he said.

Queiroz said playing against China in particular would be difficult and the team were making huge improvements.

“South Korea is very strong and we have Qatar too. We have a complete new team. They are young and talented but no experience,” he said.

Additional reporting by Chan Kin-wa