China’s fledgling revival under Marcello Lippi will be tested by Asia’s top team Iran in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, while Australia need to return to winning ways when they play UAE.
China shocked South Korea 1-0 last week for their first win of Asia’s final qualifying groups, and Lippi says there is much more to come from Team Dragon.
Elsewhere Japan host Thailand, South Korea play Syria and table-topping Saudi Arabia entertain Iraq as the road to Russia 2018 heads towards its conclusion.
Lippi, who coached Italy to World Cup victory in 2006, has been hailed as a hero for fashioning China’s rare win over South Korea, which hauled them off the foot of Group A with four games to go.
He said China now need to maintain their momentum. They now lie five points back from an automatic berth and have games to come against Syria, Uzbekistan and Qatar, after their trip to Tehran.
“We worked hard to get the three points we needed (against South Korea),” said the 68-year-old Italian, according to Xinhua news agency.
“But it is not enough to win a ticket to the World Cup. We need to continue this momentum and win the following matches.”
Lippi added: “We still have room to improve. We didn’t play the same level as we did in the last match against Qatar.”
However, playing Carlos Queiroz’s Iran away is a different proposition to last week’s home game in Changsha, and Lippi said China cannot afford to sit back in the Azadi Stadium.
“In the first half, we played too defensively when we were under pressure. I don’t want to see the same 45 minutes in the following matches any more,” he said.
“In the second half, my team was well organised in defence and created several chances to score. We still have much work to do.”
Meanwhile Tim Cahill remains bullish about Australia’s prospects despite a run of four straight draws which has put their automatic qualification in doubt.
The Saudis and Japan are level on points at the top of Group A, occupying the two automatic spots, with Australia three points behind in third and currently in line for a place in the play-offs.
But Cahill, Australia’s record scorer, said he took heart from their victory at the 2015 Asian Cup, which followed a run of indifferent results.
“Leading into the Asian Cup I think everyone was worried and thought we had no chance, and we ended up lifting the trophy,” Cahill told the team website.
“When Ange said we would lift it six months prior I know it was hard for people to believe, but me, Mile (Jedinak), Millsy (Mark Milligan), Bresc (Mark Bresciano), we didn’t bat an eyelid.
“I don’t think I’ll be flinching much now.”
The game in Sydney is shaping as a must-win for UAE, whose 2-0 defeat to Japan last week left them fourth in the group and piled pressure on their coach, Mahdi Ali.
Ismail Matar, who skippered the side last week, told The National newspaper “this is for the federation (to decide)”, when asked about Ali’s future.
“Our coach is with us now, so we have to face the problems together. We have to focus on the next game together and that is it,” Matar was quoted as saying, adding that the players remained behind Ali.
“And we will be until the last day,” he said.
Among other fixtures, South Korea, second in Group A behind Iran, will expect to bounce back from their defeat to China when they host war-torn Syria in Seoul.
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