[UPDATE: It’s not disaster for China just yet, but things most definitely did not go their way this evening. Having tied Saudi Arabia 0-0 in Xian, news came through that Iraq had won 2-0 in Indonesia, so Iraq is now two points behind China for the final qualifying berth in their group with one game to play. That game? Iraq vs China, to be played in Dubai on March 5, is now winner takes all, though China would of course qualify if it was a draw.
If China also fails to qualify for the Asian Cup as the best-third placed team, it would mark a new low in a series of troughs for the national team. China has at least qualified every time it has entered, finishing in the top 4 six times in the ten tournaments it has contested. But Iraq, the 2007 Asian Cup champions, have now been given a lifeline and have a very good chance of qualifying – at China’s expense.]
In just a few hours’ time, China’s Asian Cup hopes will be a lot clearer. At 1935 local time, the Chinese men’s national team take on Saudi Arabia in Xian, knowing that a win will seal their place in the Asian Cup.
Qualifying takes place insanely early, with the tournament in Australia still 416 days away, but China has two chances to get the points they need, and results elsewhere could mean qualification even with no win tonight. As I wrote in this week’s Sports Talk column, though, the sooner China gets the job done the better:
Should Saudi Arabia prevail Tuesday in Xi’an, and Iraq takes at least a point against Indonesia, the Chinese will face a four-month wait – which will feel like four years – until their next and final qualifying game against Iraq. The game will take place in Dubai due to security concerns in Iraq, but it’s not a place the Chinese will relish visiting if their qualification fate is still undecided.
Updates to follow as the match progresses.