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October 14, 2021

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China’s Li wants home return to give confidence boost for players

China coach Li Tie wants his players to experience the confidence boost of playing their Asian World Cup qualifiers in front of their own supporters as they prepare to return home after a challenging two-month stint in the Middle East.

The former Everton midfielder took his squad back to China yesterday after witnessing the impact of a partisan crowd when his side lost 2-3 to Saudi Arabia in front of more than 50,000 fans at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sport City Stadium.

China has yet to play at home in the final phase of the continent’s World Cup qualifiers due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Li is hoping that will soon change. “We really want to play our home games in front of the Chinese fans, it will be a great motivation to our players,” Li said after his side’s third loss in four games.

The Chinese, who are attempting to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since their debut appearance in 2002, have played all four of their matches so far on foreign soil.

Pandemic curbs in China have hit the team’s preparations, forcing Li and his squad to base themselves in the Gulf since August and cede home advantage in their games against Japan and Vietnam.

China is scheduled to play its next two games, against Oman and Australia, at home in November but no decision has yet been reached on where those matches will be played.

While it won against Vietnam last week, China lost to the Japanese as well as to Australia and Saudi Arabia and Li believes a lack of match sharpness is hurting his side. “My team needs to play more high-quality friendly matches and all the players have to adapt to the fast tempo of the final round (of) World Cup qualifiers,” Li said.

Meanwhile, Australia coach Graham Arnold has called on the New South Wales government to let fans attend their 2022 World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Sydney next month.

The ‘Socceroos’ have had to play 11 of their 12 qualifiers outside the country with Australia shutting its borders to non-residents and imposing 14-day hotel quarantine on returning travellers as part of its strict COVID-19 measures.

Arnold said home support had helped Japan beat his side 2-1 in Tuesday’s qualifier in Saitama, which also ended Australia’s 11-match winning streak.

“I just really am reaching out to the NSW government and really appealing to them to help us on this journey on our World Cup pathway,” Arnold told Australian media yesterday.

Australia last played at home two years ago when it cruised to a 5-0 win over Nepal in the second round of qualifying for the Qatar World Cup.

It is second in Group B on nine points, three behind leader Saudi Arabia, which it plays on November 11. Japan and Oman are three points further back.

Only the top two teams in each of Asia’s two qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals, with the third-placed teams going into a series of playoffs for another berth.

Elsewhere, under-fire Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu credited the united spirit within his squad for putting his country’s World Cup qualifying campaign back on track with Tuesday’s late victory over Australia.

Moriyasu was under significant pressure going into the game and could be seen with tears in his eyes during the pre-match national anthems as speculation grew over his position.

But a late own goal from Aziz Behich capped an improved performance from Moriyasu’s team and earned Japan a 2-1 win over the Socceroos after two defeats in their previous three games.

“We’ve been preparing ourselves diligently, and that led to this result,” said Moriyasu, who took over as Japan coach following the 2018 World Cup.

“We were under great pressure, but the players, coaches, the entire staff, came together as one and stood tall.”


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