Rejuvenated China national soccer team onto next stage of World Cup qualifying

Society & Culture

China's hopes of qualifying for Qatar 2022 are still alive.

China beats Syria 3-1 in World Cup qualifying

China secured a place in the third round of World Cup qualifiers for the Asia region following a 3-1 victory against Syria last Wednesday. China has not played in the World Cup since its only appearance in 2002.

Goals from Zhāng Xīzhé 张稀哲, Zhāng Yùníng 张玉宁, and star Wǔ Lěi 武磊 gave China the all-important victory over Group A leaders Syria. China will be going to the next round of the AFC World Cup qualifiers as one of the four best group runners-up.

Before the game, China knew that a draw would have likely secured advancement, but the team came out on the attack, dominating the ball and forcing Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma into a number of good saves.

Back in November 2019, China suffered a humiliating 2-1 loss to Syria, a team primarily made up of players displaced by an ongoing civil war in the country. That defeat had followed an embarrassing goalless draw to the Philippines, resulting in the end of Italian Marcello Lippi’s tenure as China’s manager.

Under head coach Lǐ Tiě 李铁, China has gone undefeated, winning 7-0 against Guam, 5-0 against the Maldives, and 2-0 against the Philippines before the Syria victory.

The team still has some of its old problems, such as a lack of creativity and consistent playmaking, but there have been signs of improvement in these areas.

In the 42nd minute, star forward Wu Lei showed some of the playmaking that China has been missing. Collecting a loose ball 30 yards out, the Espanyol winger found himself in space in the center of the field. Dribbling toward the Syrian box, previous versions of Wu Lei might have taken the shot. But this time, he showed the creative foresight to play in Zhang Xizhe, who smartly finished past Alma to give China its first goal.

Syria leveled early in the second half, but then China really began to ramp up its intensity. Wu won a penalty in the 69th minute, and strong defense allowed China to counterattack for the rest of the game.

In stoppage time, with Syria pushing deep, China was able to break quickly downfield to finally put the game to bed. Sharp, incisive passing on the counter allowed Zhang Xizhe to find Zhang Yuning to deliver the knock-out punch.

China will need to build on these second-round performances if it is to reach the World Cup. The third round of Asian qualifying consists of two groups of six teams, with the top two from each group securing a place in Qatar next year.

A third-place finish in the group will see the team face off against the other third-place team in a one-off match. The victor there will advance to an international repechage against the best Oceania team (likely New Zealand) and the near-misses from North America and South America.

The third round matches kick off on September 2. The group draw will happen on July 1 in Kuala Lumpur.


China’s men’s basketball team eases through Asia Cup qualifiers

China put its home FIBA World Cup disappointment behind it in its first appearance as a team in two years.

Going undefeated in the tournament hosted in a COVID-safe bubble in the Philippines, China showed the quality and accuracy that had been missing two years ago.

On Wednesday, China beat Japan 66-57, despite missing the star duo of Zhōu Qí 周琦 and Guō Àilún 郭艾伦.

The next day, China blew out Chinese Taipei 115-66, making light work of an overmatched opponent that had only one full-time professional on the roster (Jonah Morrison).

In Saturday’s return fixture against Japan, China had to work hard, but pulled out a 90-84 victory. Leading 80-73 going into the final quarter, China actually fell behind, but Zhou Qi and Guo Ailun were on the court this time, spurring their team on to a 17-4 run.

China won the final game against Chinese Taipei 91-73, and secured its place at the FIBA Asia Cup this August in Jakarta.


Other Stories:

Former Chinese diving champion makes Olympics for Australia (ABC)

Chinese basketball legend Zheng Haixia inducted into FIBA Hall of Fame (Xinhua)

China risks losing WTA tournaments to due strict controls on foreign visitors (Reuters)

Learning to ski in a country of beginners (Peter Hessler, The New Yorker)

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.