Asian Cup draw: China face South Korea but Marcello Lippi confident of qualifying from group stage
China open their tournament against Kyrgyzstan on January 7 before taking on the Philippines, while clash with Koreans could decide the group
Marcello Lippi has brushed aside China’s recent on-field troubles to declare himself ready to take on the continent’s best after seeing his side drawn to face South Korea in the group phase of next year’s Asian Cup finals.
Lippi’s team have not won any of their last seven games, with his side utterly outclassed in March’s China Cup friendly tournament as they slumped to a 6-0 loss at the hands of Wales before a 4-1 defeat against the Czech Republic.
But as the emphasis shifts towards the finals of the quadrennial continental championship following the draw at the base of Dubai’s formidable Burj Khalifa on Friday night, the World Cup-winning coach was recalibrating his approach ahead of a decisive nine months.
“We have a big gap with the European teams, but now we have to focus on the Asian teams and playing at the Asian Cup,” he said after seeing his team drawn in a group that also features Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines in the newly-enlarged competition.
Lippi will be only too happy to steer clear of non-Asian opposition after China also lost to Colombia and Serbia in November, and the national team will open their Asian Cup campaign in Al Ain against tournament debutants Kyrgyzstan on January 7.
Four days later they take on the Philippines in Abu Dhabi before meeting the Koreans in the same city on January 16.
“I think today the draw result was very good, the teams are well distributed across all the groups,” said the Italian. “It was a good draw for us.
“Now we have enough time to be ready for January’s Asian Cup finals. In May we have two friendly matches and after the World Cup in Russia we will have two matches in September, two in October and two in November.
“We have enough time to prepare the team for January. We have enough time and we will be ready.”
China’s route to the knockout rounds is relatively straightforward, with only eight teams eliminated at the end of the opening phase of the competition after the Asian Football Confederation increased the number of participants from 16 to 24 countries.
The winners and runners-up in each group plus the four best third-placed teams across the six groups will all feature in the Round of 16 and China should have booked their place in the knockout phase before taking on the Koreans in their final group match.
China drew 2-2 when they faced South Korea in last year’s East Asian Championship, but that result came with neither side fielding a full strength line-up in a low-key competition in December.
The Italian had previously masterminded a 1-0 win over South Korea in World Cup qualifying in March last year in Changsha, registering China’s first win over their great rivals since March 2010 and only the second ever achieved.
The record against the Philippines is much more encouraging, with China handing out an 8-1 thrashing to the Azkals in Guangzhou in June last year while China have won all three of their previous encounters with Kyrgyzstan.
Finishing first in the group would be rewarded with a last-16 meeting with the third-placed team from group A, B or F, which would most likely see China taking on Bahrain, Jordan or Oman.
A runners-up finish would make matters more difficult with an encounter against the second-placed team from Group A, which features hosts the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, India and the Bahrainis.
Defending champions Australia, meanwhile, have been drawn to face three Middle East nations with the team due to meet Syria, Palestine and Jordan in Group B while Iran and Iraq will go head-to-head in Group C alongside Vietnam and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s clash headlines Group E, which also features Lebanon and North Korea, and four-time champions Japan are the top seeds in Group F ahead of Uzbekistan, Oman and Turkmenistan.
The UAE will open the tournament on January 5 when they take on Bahrain in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium, with the same venue hosting the final on February 1. The winners of the tournament will pocket US$5 million, with the runners-up claiming US$3 million.