National Team Squad Announced, Huang Bowen & Xie Pengfei miss out

Yesterday, Marcello Lippi has confirmed his 23-men squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying fixture against Maldives. Of the 26 players summoned for the team, Zheng Zhi, Huang Bowen, and Xie Pengfei missed out on the final squad. Li Ke, 25, – still known to quite a few people as Nicholas Yennaris – made the final cut despite previous speculation that he would have been left out.


Injury-ridden veterans


The unavailability of Zheng Zhi, already 39 and still nominally the team captain, was a surprise to no one. His club appearances with Guangzhou Evergrande this year were already scarce. Fabio Capello, the team head coach, is using him only for the most important games, and even there he spent some of the game as a sub. A transition to coaching has reportedly been (understandably) underway. He was nevertheless called up to the national team for morale and dressing room management. The team also wishes to reward him for conscientious service to the national team over nearly two decades by giving him more chances to learn from a World Cup-winning coach. Few players of the World Cup-attending class of 2002 have yet to succeed as head coach, though Zheng himself was too young to be taken to Japan and Korea at the time.


Huang, 31, who has more to go before retirement but nevertheless already took up coach lessons, was also on an ‘only if have to’ basis when it comes to playing for the club. During the training camp, Huang was the most frequent visitor to the team medic. Having had to play in the first leg of the Champions League, which ended in a goalless draw at home against Kishima Antlers, Huang was already having fitness issues. With plenty of other B2B midfielders available, Lippi dropping him at home was not a hard decision to make.


The Last Cull


That left the squad with last cull to make. The unfortunate name was long to be one among Li Ke, Xie Pengfei, and Yao Junsheng. In addition, figures in Shi Ke and Yang Liyu also appeared in the local press, as it was alleged that neither showed in training the form they gave at the club level. It eventually fell to Xie Pengfei, also 25, who is one of the few players in the team had no opportunity to prove himself in the Champions League. The other attacker without continental duty this year is Tianjin Tianhai poacher Yang Xu. But Yang, 31, serves a completely different, and indeed unique, tactical function and therefore was guaranteed a spot. Yang is also famous for being prolific against obviously weaker opponents in Asia, whose defenders are short and therefore hapless in competing for aerials.


The Starting Men

Despite having made the final squad, Li Ke is unlikely to start for China as Hao Junmin will be directing the traffic in the final third and Wu Xi, 30 and the likeliest on-the-pitch captain, will be anchoring the transitions. The defense in front of the centre-backs will fall on Beijing Guo’an man Chi Zhongguo, 29, who was given the yellow vest in the last session of training. Yan Junling, in spite of online excitement over Wang Dalei’s occasional ungodly saves, is likely to start in goal. Yan, 28, has over the years proven a much steadier pair of hands notwithstanding his shortcomings in 1v1 situations. Wang, 30, has shown a tendency to make rookie mistakes to go along with his more spectacular performances.


The Squad in Full

Goalkeepers: Yan Junling, Wang Dalei, Zhang Lu

Defenders: He Wu, Shi Ke, Zhang Linpeng, Gao Zhunyi, Wang Gang, Li Lei, Zhu Chenjie, Li Shuai

Midfielders: Zheng Zhi, Hao Junmin, Wu Xi, Chi Zhongguo, Xu Xin, Li Ke, Yao Junsheng, Zhang Xizhe

Forwards: Wu Lei, Elkeson, Yang Xu, Wei Shihao, Yang Liyu