Team China’s virus-affected bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup would be boosted by a longer preparation as reports said that its remaining qualifying matches could be postponed until later in the year.
Since being appointed national team head coach in January, Li Tie has only managed to assemble his squad twice for training, with his plans complicated by the coronavirus outbreak.
China is scheduled to face the Maldives and Guam on March 26 and 31 in Thailand, before facing the Philippines and Syria on June 4 and 9.
However, Titan Sports reported on Monday that the Asian Football Confederation is considering postponing those games until October and November due to the impact of the virus epidemic across the continent.
China is eight points adrift of Group A leader Syria and only leads third-place Philippines on goal difference. The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will then enter a second phase of Asian qualifying.
The postponement of China’s qualifiers would buy precious time for coach Li, who has already faced criticism over his squad selection for the Maldives and Guam matches.
The omissions of Guangzhou Evergrande hotshot Wei Shihao and Beijing Guo’an defender Li Ke in favor of four uncapped Wuhan Zall players have puzzled many fans, who have accused Li of favoritism towards to his former club Wuhan.
Some observers have argued that, with limited time on his hands, using familiar tactics and familiar players makes sense for Li as he settles into his demanding new role.
Playing the qualifiers later in the year raises the possibility that Li could have more naturalized stars to choose from then.
To date, Brazil-born forward Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and Englandborn Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris) are the only two naturalized players to have been capped by China. However, the Chinese Football Association has been working on adding to their ranks, with Evergrande’s Brazilian forward Alan, who spent last season on loan at Tianjin Tianhai, reportedly recently completing the naturalization process.
Next month’s qualifiers were moved from China to Thailand due to the coronavirus outbreak, but if the games are postponed, Li’s men could possibly win back home advantage and avoid the logistical headaches that currently await them.
Beijing Youth Daily reported that Thailand has stipulated that all members of Team China should enter and leave the country together, while no individual will be allowed to travel alone as a precaution. The games will be staged behind closed doors, with no journalists or spectators present.
The CFA has been told Li’s squad will be monitored closely by a local health department, even at its hotel, meaning proper training or warm-up matches against local teams will be impossible.
All things considered, postponing the qualifiers would appear to be a favorable option for Team China as it looks to reach its first World Cup finals since its solitary appearance in the 2002 edition.