China hope to close in on World Cup goal

SEOUL • Ambitious China are out to prove that reaching the third round of 2018 World Cup qualifying was no fluke when they take on bogey side South Korea in Seoul today.

China scraped through thanks to their shock 2-0 win over Qatar and the Philippines' almighty 3-2 upset of North Korea on the last day of round two.

It means that China, who boast Asia's most expensive league and whose tycoons are snapping up football assets around the globe, still have a chance of featuring in the World Cup in Russia.

The top two in each of Asia's two groups of six will qualify for the World Cup, while the third-placed sides will face each other for the right to play an intercontinental play-off.

Perennial under-achievers China have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002, but they have set their sights on hosting and even winning the competition.

First they will need to upset the odds against South Korea, who have reached nine World Cups - and have lost just once to China in the past 30 years.

Coach Gao Hongbo said underdogs China were taking heart from their women's volleyball team, who upset Serbia to win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

"Everyone in Korean football thinks that within Chinese football we lack fighting spirit and we give up easily," Gao told ESPN FC.

"But I'm hoping this time we can show an improvement in this area.

"China's women's volleyball team won the Olympic gold medal as underdogs in Rio. They are the best role model for us, and we have been inspired greatly by them. Now it is our show."

Some 30,000 Chinese fans are expected at Seoul World Cup Stadium but the hosts will start as strong favourites.

"Football is not a sport where the numbers speak all. What's important is who is going to show a better performance on the pitch," South Korea coach Uli Stielike said.

"It's important how they will play, but whether we can execute our match plan and believe in ourselves is more so."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'China hope to close in on World Cup goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe