Haan beefs up Chinese offence ahead of must-win Hong Kong match
It would be true to say that China's FIFA World Cup dreams currently hang by a thread in Group 4 of the Asian Zone. After a disastrous 1-0 defeat to Kuwait in a match that should have seen them through to the next round, Arie Haan's men must now win their last qualifier against Hong Kong and in doing so score at least two more goals than Kuwait, who take on Malaysia.
Hong Kong eliminated China from the FIFA World Cup qualifiers 19 years ago, but head coach Arie Haan is holding on to slim hopes: "Anything can happen in football, and even if there's only the slightest chance, we are not giving up."
China have scored only seven goals in their last five FIFA World Cup qualifying games, and only one each in the last two fixtures. For the final match of the year and China's last chance to advance into the final qualifying round, Haan is exploring every possible route to goal.
Modifying the lineup
Poor finishing is obviously China's biggest worry at this point, and Haan is aiming to improve their odds by fortifying the offence.
First, he added Tianjin striker Yu Genwei to the front line. Yu is well-known for his ability to chase down loose balls and for his opportunism. Next, he called up 19-year-old striker Chen Tao from the Shenyang Jinde Club to make his international debut.
In midfield, Haan has brought in 29-year-old attacking midfielder Li Xiaopeng, one of the top three scorers in the Chinese Super League with 10 goals this season.
In addition to the added strength on offence, Haan has shifted the defence toward a more forward-oriented line-up as well.
Unfortunately, defender Sun Jihai will be out of action for up to a year after rupturing knee ligaments in a 1-0 Manchester City win over Chelsea, but Everton's Li Tie will return to the China midfield after nearly a season's absence due to injury.
In defence, Zheng Zhi is back in the China squad after a red card suspension kept him out of the last game. Zheng plays an important role in Haan's strategy, as his surprise forays forward provided China with numerous chances at the Asian Cup earlier this year.
A last ditch effort
Arie Haan and his squad set off for Guangzhou two weeks early to prepare for the match on 17 November. Much of their training will focus on shooting -- "every player needs to take shots, not just the forwards," said Haan.
Goalkeepers: Liu Yunfei, Li Jian, Sun Shoubo;
Defenders: Wei Xin, Li Weifeng, Zhang Yaokun, Zhou Ting, Yang Pu, Zhang Yonghai;
Midfielders: Li Tie, Shao Jiayi, Zhao Junzhe, Zheng Zhi, Li Xiaopeng, Xu Yunlong, Yan Song, Zheng Bin, Xu Liang;
Forwards: Hao Haidong, Li Jinyu, Li Yi, Chen Tao, Yu Genwei