Pressure piles on Li after latest letdown

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-14 09:02
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Saudi Arabia midfielder Sami al-Naji (right) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against China at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Jeddah. [Photo/AFP]

Reluctance to start naturalized players riles fans as qualification hopes recede

With Team China's slim hopes of reaching next year's World Cup finals fading fast, head coach Li Tie's tactics continue to confound fans and pundits alike.

Tuesday's 3-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah dealt China's qualification hopes another blow, with the team now requiring something of a minor miracle to reach the 2022 finals in Qatar. While the result against a strong Saudi side was expected, Li's sparing use of the naturalized stars at his disposal was baffling to his detractors.

Li started with just one naturalized player, defender Tyias Browning. However, trailing 2-0 at the interval, Brazilian-born trio Alan, Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio) were introduced and immediately revitalized the visitor, with the latter producing a stunning volley after just 20 seconds on the pitch.

"Facing the attacking pressure and quick pace of Saudi Arabia, the Chinese players were overrun with too many mistakes in defense. We started the game with a five-man defense, and the Chinese players were just a background to the constant Saudi Arabia pressure," renowned sports commentator Han Qiaosheng wrote on Weibo.

"It was only in the second half that the coaching team seemed to realize we still had naturalized players to use, and consequently managed to launch some counterattacks. My question is why didn't we use them earlier?... I thought about this for a long time and I don't know what to say. After 20 years, earning a World Cup ticket has almost become a fantasy for us."

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