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World Cup dream fading after latest reality check

With Team China's chances of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup rated less than 1 percent in recent viral news reports, fans were certainly braced for more disappointment before the final phase of qualifying matches kicked off.

A 3-0 Group B defeat to Australia in Doha was, therefore, met with a certain degree of resignation from supporters, who, after witnessing the gulf in class between China and the Socceroos, realize Li Tie's men are simply not at the same level as the best teams in the Asian qualification bracket.

China next faces the continent's top-ranked squad, world No 24 Japan, on Tuesday. And although a positive result appears unlikely again, China can at least draw some hope from Japan's shock 1-0 opening loss to Oman on Thursday.

"Our team's performance was really not good enough. We played well in the first 20 minutes, but we gradually lost control of the ball. It was too easy for the Australians to seize their opportunities," said Team China head coach Li in the post-match news conference.

"When they had possession, we didn't defend well enough. I hope the players can put it behind them as quick as possible, because there are more matches waiting for us."

The 44-year-old Li, a former Everton midfielder, conceded that his team lacked quality and pace against a superior opponent.

"The Australian team plays in the European style, and they have a really quick pace. This is the gap between us in strength. Our players need to be braver to face stronger teams in the final stage of World Cup qualifying," he said.

"If we want to move forward, we need to improve our confidence and we need to challenge our opponents… It's surprising to many that Japan lost to Oman, but this is the charm of soccer.

"Playing against Japan will be a tough test for us, but this is a great chance for our players. They will have the chance to play against the best team in Asia."

Team China's defeat inevitably became trending news on social media, with one hashtag-"Li Tie describes Team China's performance as lackluster"-viewed over 120 million times over the course of 12 hours on Weibo.

Many fans conceded that the result was not unexpected. Indeed, it is now generally accepted there is no easy solution or quick fix to end Team China's wait to reach its second World Cup finals, having made a solitary appearance in 2002.

"It's not necessary to think too much about the history of the team. Based on the current situation, it's hard for the team to solve the defensive problem. And if they stay at this level, the results of the squad's future matches won't be promising," read a commentary by

"Team China collapsed when it played against a top-level Asian team. That's the reality of the situation for Chinese soccer.

"As one fan said online, we just needed one match to see the gap between Chinese soccer and the top Asian teams. So qualifying for the World Cup finals is a goal that is unrealistic."

The most glaring of China's weaknesses on Thursday night was its porous, cumbersome defense, where the absence of the injured Tang Miao was sorely felt.

"Who will replace the role of the injured Tang Miao?... The coach made some changes but that's not enough. In such an intense competition, Team China's lack of physical strength was really obvious," said Titan Sports reporter Ma Dexing.

"If the Chinese team really hopes to reach the 2022 World Cup finals, it needs to have the strength to win over the top Asian teams such as Australia and Japan. But closing that gap in strength will take a long time."

Naturalization conundrum

As part of China's long-term plans to revitalize the nation's soccer program, efforts to improve youth training and the domestic club game are ongoing. In the shorter term, the recruitment of naturalized players is attempting to give the national team an instant boost.

The effectiveness of the latter strategy, which began during previous head coach Marcello Lippi's reign, is debatable.

The likes of Brazil-born strikers Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and Alan, the latter of which scored three goals in the previous phase of qualifying, have established themselves as important players for China.

However, inexplicably to some observers, Alan and another Brazil-born attacker, Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio), were unused substitutes against the Aussies.

"During Friday's match, Li Tie used his full allocation of subs, but neither Alan nor Luo Guofu were among them. That decision has sparked some controversy," read a commentary by

"Different from previous World Cup qualifiers, due to the addition of several naturalized players, there were higher expectations on Team China. And the fans were expecting to see a better performance in the attacking end of the pitch.

"Alan and Luo Guofu are two very efficient players. However, they failed to earn a spot in Team China's starting XI, and didn't even get any game time.

"Fans are questioning why the coach did not pick these two players, who have produced great performances in the Chinese Super League. And others are asking if we won't play them, why did we even naturalize them?"

One theory touted by pundits and fans was that Li sacrificed the attacking duo in an ultimately failed attempt to add more defensive steel to his starting XI.

"As we have said many times in the past, the key for Team China now is to shore up the defense. During Friday's match, we lost two goals quickly in 24th and 26th minutes, which immediately put the players and coach under pressure," former China international Li Yi wrote on social media.

"For the past 500 days, Team China has barely had any chance to play against quality rivals, such as the high-level Australian team. If we had five or six intense matches like this before, I think we could have produced a better result.

"More importantly, we need to figure out how to play the next game against Japan… The key for us is to have better defense and seize our chances on the counterattack."




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