Kuala Lumpur: After winning starts to their respective FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers campaigns last month, China PR and Syria will be looking to avoid potential banana skins in Group A action on Thursday.
China PR will host Guam in Guangzhou, while Syria will face the Maldives in Dubai as the group’s two highest ranked sides look to stamp their authority on the road to Qatar 2022 and China 2023.
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The journey so far
CHINA PR v GUAM
Marcello Lippi’s China PR side will arrive at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium buoyed by last month’s 5-0 win in the Maldives, and confident of achieving a similar result against a Guam outfit 127 places below them in the FIFA rankings.
While China enjoyed an Elkeson-inspired win in Malé, Guam made an unsuccessful start to their bid to reach a first ever major tournament, suffering back-to-back home losses to Maldives and the Philippines.
The only other competitive meeting between the sides saw Qu Shengqing and Hao Haidong score nine goals between them in a 19-0 whitewash in a 2000 AFC Asian Cup Qualifier, and, while no one expects such a one-sided result this time around, it underlines the magnitude of the task facing Karl Dodd’s side.
The current Chinese outfit is also one blessed with attacking fire-power.
Wu Lei will join up with his national teammates fresh from becoming the first player from the country to score in the UEFA Europa League, while Brazilian-born Elkeson resumes his international career after last month’s two-goal debut.
Yang Xu and Wu Xi have also found recent form in the final third for China, who, as hosts, are guaranteed to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, putting their focus squarely on reaching the FIFA World Cup Finals for the first time since 2002.
While Guam are considered outsiders in the clash, they will have something of a secret weapon in former Shanghai SIPG forward Daniel McBreen, who will accompany the Matao as assistant coach.
A former teammate of Dodd’s at North Queensland Fury, McBreen will hoping to use his time in the world’s most populous nation to help mastermind an upset, which, should it occur, would be the biggest in the history of international football by the basis of population.
CHINA PR v GUAM
Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Kick-off: 2000 hours (UTC +8)
SYRIA v MALDIVES
Syria may have lost their all-time top scorer, but they remain warm favourites ahead of Thursday’s meeting with 153rd-ranked Maldives at Rashid Stadium.
Firas Al Khatib’s retirement from football last week, which came after head coach Fajr Ibrahim informed the 36-year-old he was no longer part of his national team plans, means Syria will be without one of their elder statesmen, but there is still ample reason to believe the remaining players can do the job in Dubai.
Omar Al Soma (pictured above) is in his usual prolific form, scoring three goals in four matches for Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli since his brace in the 5-2 win against the Philippines last month, while the Qasioun Eagles will welcome back 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khribin after the Al Hilal star missed the trip to Bacolod.
Syria’s success against the Azkals ended a six-match winless streak, and Ibrahim will confident of achieving back-to-back wins for the first time since he took over the head coaching role for the fourth time mid-way through this year’s AFC Asian Cup.
Standing in their way will be a Maldives side who began their Asian Qualifiers campaign with a valuable 1-0 away win in Guam on Matchday One, before crashing back down to earth with a 5-0 home to defeat to China PR five days later.
Suspensions loom as an additional barrier to their bid to recover from that loss.
Captain and defensive lynchpin Akram Abdull Ghani will miss the tie after being sent off last time out, while Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain – scorer of the winning goal in Guam – is unavailable after picking up bookings in both matches last month.
While a win may be a lofty goal, Petar Segrt’s side will, at a minimum, expect a much better result than those achieved by Maldives in the two previous World Cup Qualifiers between the sides, which both ended in 12-0 wins to Syria back in 1997.
SYRIA v MALDIVES
Venue: Rashid Stadium, Dubai
Kick-off: 1600 hours (UTC +4)
Photos: Chinese Football Association, Guam Football Association, AFC
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