The AFC Asian Cup 2019 contenders: China PR

China head into the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with the oldest squad in the tournament with an average age of 28.74 years.

Their captain Zheng Zhi is 38 years old while the squad have a total of eight players aged 30 or above as they travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the 17th edition of the tournament.

UAE will be legendary Italian coach Marcello Lippi’s final assignment with China as the former Guangzhou Evergrande tactician brings to an end his long association with Chinese football. However, Lippi, who was brought in as a stop-gap solution following a disappointing 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign has done exactly just that and nothing more.

CHINA FACTFILE

Coach: Marcello Lippi
Captain: Zheng Zhi
Best performance at Asian Cup: Runners-up (1984 and 2004)
Last time out in 2015: Quarterfinals (lost 2-0 to eventual champions Australia)

FIXTURES

January 7: China PR v Kyrgyz Republic (Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al Ain –  3pm local time)
January 11: Philippines v China PR (Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 5:30pm local time)
January 16: Korea Republic v China PR (Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 5:30pm local time)

THE KEY PLAYER – GAO LIN

THE KEY PLAYER – GAO LIN

One of Lippi’s trusted lieutenants ever since his days at Guangzhou, Gao has 103 international caps for China and has netted 21 goals for his country.

Not winning the Chinese Super League (CSL) has become somewhat of a hard pill to swallow for the Guangzhou players this decade and Gao will be fuelled by the hunger to win something after losing out on the domestic title to Shanghai SIPG this season after a gap of seven years.

Gao’s form with the national team hasn’t been upto the mark in recent times — much like the overall performance of the team itself — however, his combination with frontmen Yu Dabao and Wu Lei will be crucial for China at the continental showpiece.

THE YOUNG STAR – WEI SHIHAO

THE YOUNG STAR – WEI SHIHAO

Wei, who has already ventured to Europe in his fledgling career, made a permanent move to China’s Beijing Guoan from Portuguese side Leixoes recently.

In 2017, he had played for Shanghai SIPG on loan from Leixoes scoring three goals for Andre Villas-Boas’ side.

Wei had moved to Portugal in 2013 as a 17-year-old signing for lower league side Boavista and made his Portuguese top division debut the following year when the club moved to the Primeira Liga. He spend the next two seasons in the second division before returning to the CSL as Shanghai came calling.

2018 saw the 22-year-old make his debut for China’s senior team and with the Asian Cup being his first major tournament with the Team Dragon, he will be hoping to inject some youthfulness into this ageing China squad.

THE VERDICT

Even with the underwhelming form the national team has been in recent times (just one win from the last six friendly matches), China not making it out of the group stages at UAE will still be regarded as a shock by the football world.

Team Dragon are placed in Group C along with Korea Republic, Philippines and Kyrgyz Republic at the Asian Cup an they will begin their campaign against the latter on January 7.

While both China and South Korea are a cut above the other two and look poised to qualify for the knockouts, all eyes will be on Lippi’s veteran squad as football fans wait to find out whether they have in their tanks enough to move further in the competition.

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