Dujkovic: A medal is the aim

A little less than a month from China's opening match against New Zealand at the Olympic Men's Football Tournament Beijing 2008, coach Ratomir Dujkovic reiterated the hosts' goal: to win a medal at the global showpiece.

"It would be great if we could win an Olympic medal," the Serbian told the local press. "This would be enough to satisfy the Chinese people."

As hosts, Dujkovic's charges will have much to live up to, however. Progression to the last eight is the first task, and Dujkovic, who guided debutants Ghana to the second round at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, has a definite plan. He wants to secure qualification ahead of the last match against Dunga's Brazil, one of the tournament favorites, who are spearheaded by the likes of Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho, Real Madrid marksman Robinho and AC Milan striking sensation Alexandre Pato.

"An opening victory over New Zealand on 7 August will be a good start for us," he told journalists. "But we have to move up a gear against Belgium in the second game three days later. Should everything go to plan, we will enter the match against Brazil with six points already."

Senior experience
Dujkovic's declaration of his medal-winning aims came only three weeks after the senior side's failed qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010 concluded. Dujkovic had taken on a role as the ‘general coach' of the senior team alongside the head coach, his countryman Vladimir Petrovic.

Petrovic paid the inevitable price for his poor results, and the pressure is now on Dujkovic and his junior side to win back the fans' hearts with an outstanding display on the Olympic stage.

In a sense, the senior side's pain was the juniors' gain. A number of U-23 players broke into the senior side during Dujkovic's tenure as general coach. As a result, the Serbian will be able to fill nearly half of his Olympic squad with players who figured prominently with the senior team throughout the qualifying competition.

The striking duo of Zhu Ting and Manchester United's Dong Fangzhuo will be relied upon to provide the goals, while the ammunition from midfield will be provided by the likes of Zhou Haibin and Zhao Xuri. At the back, Feng Xiaoting is the mainstay of the defense, with Qiu Shengjiong established as the regular goalkeeper.

With a young but experienced side at his disposal, Dujkovic saw his team begin their final build-up to the Olympic competition brightly with a 3-2 friendly win over the Vietnam senior team on Sunday. Next on China's warm-up schedule is a game against Malaysia next Sunday, before they round off their preparation with a pair of friendlies against the Australian Olympic side in late July.

"After training and playing so frequently this year with both the senior and the Olympic teams, we are feeling tired," said Zhou Haibin, who scored China's second goal against Vietnam. "But we are working hard to get fully fit ahead of the Olympics."

Overage choice
Dujkovic has also added the three permitted over-age players to his squad, to lend some experience and pedigree.

National team defender Li Weifeng is all but guaranteed his place at the back, while midfield maestro Zheng Zhi has made the captain's armband his own, barring a serious injury. A trio of contenders are in the running for the remaining place, with national team striker Han Peng looking the most likely to join the squad, although Liu Jian and Song Zhenyu have also been considered.

"I hope these overage players, particularly Zhi, will get themselves properly fit for the tournament as their experience and ability will be crucial for the team," commented Dujkovic, not concealing his high expectations for the overage trio.

Zheng Zhi, who is nursing a slight back problem, dismissed rumours that his injury would cost him his place in the Olympic team. "It's just an old injury, and I am 100% sure that I'll recover in time for the competition."