Raring to go: China desperate for fast start in World Cup qualifier against Iran

After falling behind 3-0 last week against South Korea, Gao Hongbo’s side stormed home to lose by only a goal and are hoping to carry that form over to Tuesday’s game

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 11:01pm

China are hoping to reproduce the form that gave South Korea palpitations last week as they take on heavyweights Iran in another big World Cup qualifying test on Tuesday night.

China fought back from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 with 14 minutes left in Seoul, ensuring a tense finale to a game which South Korea had looked like wrapping up with ease.

While China started the final round of Asian qualifying with a defeat, they are taking heart from the performance ahead of Tuesday’s game in Shenyang.

“I don’t think we have much pressure,” said Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Huang Bowen, according to the Global Times.

“I just hope we can play the way we did in the last 15 minutes against South Korea.”

China are bidding to reach only the second World Cup in their history in a tough group A which also brackets 2022 hosts Qatar, Uzbekistan and Syria.

They are not the only team needing a positive result with Japan, still smarting from a disallowed goal in their 2-1 defeat by UAE, facing a tricky away trip to Thailand.

The top two teams from both of the six-strong Asian groups will earn spots at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the third-placed teams go into a play-off series.

“Iran are stronger than us,” said Huang. “But we are playing at home, so I hope we can deliver.”

China’s first task will be to avoid conceding after Zheng Zhi’s own goal, followed by strikes from Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol, gave them a mountain to climb in Seoul.

Carlos Queiroz’s Iran are Asia’s top-ranked side at 39th in the world, and they started the qualifying round with a 2-0 victory over Qatar in Tehran – although both goals came in injury time.

“It’s going to be very tough. We come from different results in the first games, but the situation is reversed now that China will play at home,” Queiroz said.

In Bangkok, Japan desperately need a win after their shock loss to UAE, but it won’t be easy for the four-time Asian champions at a steamy Rajamangala Stadium.

Outspoken AC Milan forward Keisuke Honda read his younger teammates the riot act after last week’s defeat, telling them they need to work harder.

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“A surprising number of players watch and read the news so they know what I say. I don’t think they are going to change straight away, but maybe become aware of the fact that they have to make more of an effort,” Honda said, according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

“I want to give them the opportunity to change their mindset. I have to pull the team forward when it needs pulling, and it’s not just me. There are a number of experienced players on this team that feel the same way.”

Meanwhile, the UAE can seize the initiative in group B when they host Australia looking for their second big scalp after beating Japan last week.

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Asian champions Australia were tentative in last week’s 2-0 win over Iraq in Perth, and home conditions will suit UAE with free entry expected at Abu Dhabi’s 42,000-capacity Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman urged fans to come out in force, warning that the game “won’t be easy at all”.

“We have to win for the second successive time, which will help us at the end of our journey,” he told The National newspaper.

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“But we need our stadium to be full, with more than 40,000 Emiratis to come and support their national team.”

Elsewhere, war-torn Syria play their ‘home’ fixture against South Korea in Malaysia, which is also hosting Iraq’s game against Saudi Arabia.