World Cup qualifying: China vs. Australia, preview

Society & Culture

Also: China’s 20 golds top the Tokyo Paralympics so far.

Tim Cahill Australia goal vs China 2015 AFC Asian Cup
Australia's Tim Cahill scored a brilliant goal the last time China and Australia met on the soccer field, during the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Cup.
China begins the third round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers with a tough opening match against Australia on Friday. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Australia, but strict COVID-19 restrictions meant that the Chinese squad would have faced a 14-day quarantine, so the game has been moved to Qatar.

It’s been six years since these teams last met — in the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinals, played in Australia, which the Socceroos won 2-0.

Friday’s game represents Lǐ Tiě’s 李铁 toughest test so far as head coach of the national team, a role he took over midway through the previous round of qualifying.

China looked down and out at the midway stage of the second round after losing to a Syrian team that hasn’t played at home since 2010 and a disappointing draw with low-ranked Philippines. However, under Li Tie, who took over from the failing Marcelo Lippi, China has seen a reversal in its fortunes.

A top-two finish in the group will send China straight to the World Cup finals in Qatar next year, while a third-place finish means China will be forced to go through the fourth-round playoff that leads to intercontinental playoffs. China’s group includes Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Vietnam.

It’s a top-heavy group, meaning China should feel confident about securing four wins out of four against Oman and Vietnam. Despite Saudi Arabia going eight games undefeated in the second round, China will feel that its stars, Wǔ Lěi 武磊 and Elkeson (艾克森 Ài Kèsēn), can pull them through.

Japan and Australia are the big challenges.

Although this is not a vintage Australian team, it still won eight of eight last round. The team doesn’t have that standout star like Tim Cahill or Mark Viduka as in the past, but it can still call upon players from the top European leagues, such as Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ajdin Hrustic or Real Sociedad’s Mathew Ryan.

China will need to be tactically disciplined against Australia and hope that the extra time it has spent together as a squad will help against a disparate Australian squad, which may not have the chemistry and fluidity that comes after a couple of games.

Even a draw would be a major result for China, especially since it plays group favorites Japan next week.


China’s 20 golds top Paralympics so far

Zhou Xia

Chinese athletes cleaned up over the first week of events at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Unlike their Olympic counterparts, China Paralympians have been winning medals across almost every sport. The largest overseas delegation is competing in every event, with the exception of wheelchair rugby and equestrian.

Athletics especially has been a high point for China so far. With 11 golds in track and field, China is sitting comfortably at the top of the table, with Brazil’s five golds a distant second.

Zhōu Xiá 周霞 has perhaps been the biggest story coming out of the Tokyo Olympic stadium. The 22-year-old took gold in the women’s 100m T35 (for those with coordination impairments) in a thriller against Isis Holt of Australia, smashing the previous world record by a staggering 0.43 seconds, finishing in 13 seconds flat.

Unfortunately, China’s flag bearer Wáng Hào 王浩 missed out on the first of his events, finishing fourth in the men’s 100m T47 (below elbow or wrist amputation), despite setting a new Asian record.

Wang will get another chance to get a gold in his favored event of long jump which takes place on Tuesday.

However, the one sport that China has really excelled in has been wheelchair fencing. China’s 11 golds has lapped the field, with the Russia trailing in a distant second with two golds.

With three golds to her name in epee, sabre, and the epee team event, Tán Shūméi 谭淑梅 has been the stand-out fencing athlete.

With a week left of the Games and more medals to come, Team China looks on course to get close to and perhaps even exceed the 107 golds it won in Rio five years ago.

China will be looking to add more medals in badminton, rowing, swimming, and shooting, all of which should have Chinese athletes competing in the finals.

The Paralympics finish on Sunday, with the closing ceremony taking place on the same day.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.