ACQ Preview: Saudi Arabia v China

ACQ Preview: Saudi Arabia v China

By Paul Williams

One is a former giant, one should be a giant. Both, especially of late, have been big disappointments.

Saudi Arabia vs ChinaSaudi Arabia were once the kings of Asian football, especially in the 1990’s to mid-2000’s. In that time they won the 1996 AFC Asian Cup (runner-up a further three times), won three Gulf Cups (1994, 2002 and 2003), won two Arab Nations Cups (1998, 2002) and qualified for four consecutive FIFA World Cups (1994-2006).

In July 2004 they held a FIFA ranking of 21. They’re now ranked 118. It has been some fall from grace for the Green Falcons, with their latest flop coming at the recent Gulf Cup of Nations where they exited in the group stage after only one win (against Yemen) from three games. That came just weeks after they flopped at the 2012 West Asian Championships, again just finishing ahead of Yemen in their group, with one win, one draw and one loss.

After 18 months in the job, high profile manager Frank Rijkaard was finally shown the door. In his place comes former Real Madrid coach Juan Ramón López Caro, who was appointed Technical Advisor 12 months earlier.

He faces a mighty challenge to take Saudi football back to its glory days. Ironically his first match in charge will be against another Spaniard, Jose Antonio Camacho.

Experienced striker Nasser Al-Shamrani, whose goal scoring record at club level is exceptional (79 goals in 95 games), will be their main focal point up front. Meanwhile at the back, it will be their captain Osama Hawsawi looking to repel the Chinese attack.

Hawsawi recently returned to Saudi Arabia to join Al Ahli after an ill-fated move to Belgian side Anderlecht the previous year, where he made just one appearance.

Camacho and his Chinese team have spent the last few weeks in a training camp in Spain, with Camacho reportedly unhappy with the condition of some of his players after a lengthy break at the end of the 2012 Chinese Super League season.

Amazingly, almost half of China’s squad comes from the one club – Guangzhou Evergrande. Gao Lin, who was Guangzhou’s top Chinese scorer last year, will likely lead the attack with Shandong’s Wang Yongpo, the league’s highest Chinese scorer.

After failing once again to qualify for the final round of FIFA World Cup Qualifying, the pressure is on China to qualify for Asia’s showpiece tournament and a tough trip to Saudi first up could go either way. A positive result in arguably the toughest away trip they’ll face will set their campaign up nicely, a poor result could leave them chasing their tail, especially in a group where goal difference could prove crucial.

Date: Wednesday 6 February 2013
Kick Off: 8:15pm (local time)
Venue: King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh
Head to Head: Played 15 (Saudi Arabia 6; China 6; Draw 3)
Most Recent Meeting: China 1-4 Saudi Arabia (Tianjin – 4 June 2009)

Form – Saudi Arabia
Kuwait 1-0 Saudi Arabia, 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations, Ar Rifa, 13 January 2013
Yemen 0-2 Saudi Arabia, 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations, Manama, 10 January 2013
Saudi Arabia 0-2 Iraq, 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations, Manama, 7 January 2013
Bahrain 1-0 Saudi Arabia, 2012 West Asian Championships, Ardiyah, 16 December 2012
Yemen 0-1 Saudi Arabia, 2012 West Asian Championships, Ardiyah, 13 December 2012

Form – China
Oman 1-0 China, International Friendly, Muscat, 30 January 2013
China 1-1 New Zealand, International Friendly, Shanghai, 14 November 2012
Brazil 8-0 China, International Friendly, Recife, 11 September 2012
Sweden 1-0 China, International Friendly, Helsingborg, 7 September 2012
China 1-1 Ghana, International Friendly, Xi’an, 15 August 2012

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