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Li's squad selection riles fans

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-26 09:25
Team China coach Li Tie takes interviews from the media before training in Foshan, South China's Guangdong province, Jan 20, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Team China coach Li Tie is facing a backlash from fans and pundits over his squad selection for the upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

The Chinese Football Association on Monday announced a 26-man squad for next month's games against the Maldives and Guam, with the omissions of Guangzhou Evergrande hotshot Wei Shihao and naturalized Beijing Guo'an defender Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris) leaving many observers puzzled.

Instead, Li has selected four lesser-known names (Li Hang, Dong Chunyu, Ming Tian and Liu Yun) from Wuhan Zall, the club he coached before being appointed as Marcello Lippi's successor in the national team job in early January.

La Liga striker Wu Lei and Brazil-born forward Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) have retained their places in the squad, however, the omission of Wei in particular has riled many fans.

Wei was last season's top domestic scorer in the Chinese Super League, with many fans taking to social media to voice their dismay at Li's decision to drop the 24-year-old.

After being officially installed as national team coach on Jan 2, former Everton midfielder Li pushed his players to their limits during a tough winter training camp in Guangzhou last month.

The priority for Li and his team is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. With four more first-round qualifiers to play, China is eight points adrift of Group A leader Syria and only leads third-place Philippines on goal difference. The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will enter a second phase of Asian qualifying.

China is expected to bag three points against minnows the Maldives on March 26 and Guam five days later, before ending its campaign with crunch matches against the Philippines and Syria.

Some have leapt to Li's defense, given China should have little trouble in defeating the Maldives and Guam. Others, though, deem the selection risky, considering home advantage has been lost due the novel coronavirus outbreak which has resulted in the games being moved to Thailand.

"Will Li Tie win his first game as the national team coach? The answer is almost certainly a yes!" said renowned Chinese sports commentator Han Qiaosheng, who has around 15 million followers on Weibo.

"Given the limited strength of the Maldives and Guam, Li's squad will secure the next six points even without the deafening sounds of cheering from fans at home."

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