FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – World Cup – Asia Qualifiers – Group B – China v Japan – Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar – September 7, 2021 China coach Li Tie reacts REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari
November 7, 2021
By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) – China coach Li Tie has admitted he is unable to enhance his squad ahead of the next round of World Cup preliminaries because of the Chinese Super League’s ongoing hiatus.
The league went into a three-and-a-half month long shutdown in mid-August to accommodate the national team’s preparations for the qualifiers as the Chinese attempt to advance to the World Cup finals for the first time since their debut in 2002.
With a limited squad recording one win in their first four qualifiers and sitting adrift of the Qatar 2022 qualification berths, Li feels he cannot refresh his team as he would like.
“We thought about recruiting other players, but because many Chinese Super League teams are on holiday, we have very limited options,” Li said, according to Xinhua.
“After due consideration and discussion, we decided to take the current team to Sharjah.”
The Chinese are currently fifth among the six nations in Group B of Asia’s preliminaries and, with only the first two finishers guaranteed to advance to the finals, Li’s side are a long way short of their goal.
Saudi Arabia top the group with 12 points from four games while China have picked up only three, from a frantic 3-2 win over Vietnam in October.
Li’s team next face Oman in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 11 before taking on Australia in the same venue five days later.
Both are games which were originally scheduled to be played in China, but the country’s pandemic quarantining regulations have led to China being a team that has operated in exile.
China have played one of their last nine games on home soil with the rest being held either on neutral or opposition turf.
Li’s frustrations have been increased by a lack of overseas experience within his squad, with only striker Wu Lei – who currently contracted to Spanish side Espanyol – playing in a leading European league.
“I used to play in the Premier League,” said former Everton midfielder Li.
“Playing with and against top players all the time got me used to that environment, so when I then played for the national team, I didn’t feel nervous.
“Playing overseas is an effective way to improve our players. I hope that we will have more talented players playing in top-tier leagues and international games.”
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Schmollinger)