2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifying

Support in numbers: 30,000 fans set to cheer on China in crunch Fifa World Cup qualifier with South Korea

Gao Hongbo’s side open their final round qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 with a trip to Seoul World Cup Stadium, with officials expecting a bumper crowd with close to half of the spectators set to be cheering on the visitors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 7:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 11:03pm

As many as 30,000 Chinese soccer fans could be set to descend on Seoul on Thursday when Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup continues.

Korean officials said 15,000 tickets were sent to their Chinese counterparts ahead of the crunch third qualifying round opener.

However, the Korean Football Association has suggested there could be double that amount of Chinese fans at the 66,000-capacity Seoul World Cup Stadium.

China, who narrowly advanced through the last stage, meet South Korea in the opening match of a year-long final qualifying campaign.

Two groups of six teams will now battle it out for four automatic qualifying spots, with the top two teams in each group securing their spot at the World Cup in Russia, while the third-place finishers will enter a play-off.

China are considered outsiders to claim an automatic qualifying berth after being grouped with regional heavyweights South Korea and Iran, as well as Qatar, Syria and Uzbekistan.

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Chinese fans are enjoying a renewed sense of hope for the national team’s World Cup chances after their great escape act back in March, when a shock win against Qatar, and a massive upset when Philippines beat North Korea with a last-gasp winner, handed China a hugely unlikely spot in the final round as a best-placed runner-up.

China have risen to number 78 in the Fifa world rankings since the Chinese Football Association handed Gao Hongbo the reins for a third time following French manager Alain Perrin’s ill-fated two-year spell in charge of the national team.

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The Chinese government has made no secret of its desire to see the national team qualify for the World Cup and recently implemented a bonus scheme that could see the players pocket HK$69.5 million if they manage to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

There will also be a potential win bonus of HK$23.3 million per game in the final round of regional qualifiers.

China take on Iran in Shenyang next Tuesday in their second qualifier, but first South Korea, who have qualified for each of the previous eight World Cups, will pose a stern test of Gao’s team’s credentials.

They eased through to the final stage of qualifying in some style topping group G with a flawless record of eight straight wins, racking up 24 goals and conceding none.

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They also boast a dominant head-to-head record against China with 17 wins, 12 draws and just one loss from their 30 meetings.

Also on Thursday in group A, Uzbekistan entertain Syria and Qatar travel to Iran.