2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifying

Out in the cold: China coach Gao Hongbo drops veteran Zheng Zhi for key World Cup qualifiers

The 36-year-old Guangzhou Evergrande captain will miss next month’s games at home to Syria and away in Uzbekistan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 10:57pm

Veteran Zheng Zhi was surprisingly dropped by coach Gao Hongbo for China’s upcoming crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Syria and Uzbekistan next month.

The 36-year-old midfielder, who is the captain of Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande, was overlooked when Gao announced his 24-man squad on Thursday for their next two qualifying matches, which China must win to keep their hopes of World Cup qualification alive.

China will entertain Syria in their group A match in Xian on October 6 before travelling to Tashkent to take on Uzbekistan five days later.

After being defeated by South Korea 3-2 in their opening group game and following that up with a disappointing goalless draw against visitors Iran last time out, China’s campaign to reach the World Cup in Russia could be short-lived if they fail to get a result next month.

China are currently fourth in the six-team group with just one point from two games, level with Syria who forced an unexpected draw against South Korea in their last match.

Uzbekistan lead the standings after two straight wins, while South Korea and Iran are tied for second place with four points each, with Qatar yet to score a point after two games and sit bottom of the group.

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Former captain Zheng’s international career appeared to be over earlier this year when he was not selected for the final two matches in the previous round in which China won to advance to the final stage of qualifying.

However, coach Gao brought Zheng back at the beginning of the current stage and the former Charlton midfielder featured against South Korea.

Zheng’s fellow Guangzhou teammate Zeng Cheng, the first choice goalkeeper, was also not selected after suffering a knee injury during their last match against Iran that has ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

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He has been replaced by Yan Junling of Shanghai SIPG, while 34-year-old defender Du Wei and striker Yang Xu return to the squad with China set to start their training camp in Wuhan next week.