New National Team Revealed: Who are they and what are people saying

Well, it finally happened. After a long suspense, another national team of China’s senior men has been announced yesterday. With a new head coach, the 24-man list contains the deserved, the compromises, and the surprises. The team will first assemble in Haikou for a training camp and play two friendlies in New Zealand against its national team on the 23rd and 26th of this month.


The Head Coach



Well, it turned out Li Xiaopeng is not suited to coaching, at least not a national team at any rate. When he tried out with the Women’s National Team, the Steel Roses failed to qualify for London Olympics in 2012, the first and only time they missed the main event of the Olympics. His time at the helm of the men’s team was symbolised by the 1-3 loss to Vietnam on (Chinese) New Year’s day. With the Chairman Chinese Football Association removed, it was no surprise that a new coach would have to be appointed.

Many names were put into speculation, including those of Carlos Queiroz, who left Iran national team despite a decent showing at the World Cup, and Paulo Bento, who was also seeking a new challenge after a defining stint with South Korea. Queiroz eventually took up the Qatar job.

It was then left the FA with few choices. But Aleksandar Janković was indeed a convincing choice under the circumstances. True, there are fans that wanted a bigger name. But even if the FA could afford (they could not) one, it is doubtful the current chaotic state that Chinese football finds itself in would engender any favourable assessment by any prospective applicants. Indeed, in the case of Queiroz, there is much more desirable that Qatar can supply. Let’s also not forget zero-Covid policies were only lifted starting last November and not fully implemented this year.


Janković, on the other hand, has the benefit of being cheap, convenient, and known. His wage is unlikely to change despite having been given a promotion. He is in China already and has worked with the officials, staff and players. As someone who has worked with the youth national teams (as a matter of fact, he already served a brief caretaker spell for a month despite having played zero games), he is in a prime position to rejuvenate the national team in terms of both morale and actual age.


The Players


Of course, for now the squad age has not come just yet. The youngest player in this squad is 25 and the average age is 29.7. But that has to be taken within the context of no U24 players, who have to cover the Asia Games in the summer and they won’t be touched until the end of the competition in early October. This created a small, albeit existential inconvenience. But the main frame of the team should be firmly established by then. And we will have seen the underqualified players be dropped by now.


The surprises


A few players made to the squad at the benefit of not only the players who will have to fulfill the political task, but also players who wished to spend more time with family and declined the call-up. And the leading man in this category is Li Shuai, the Shanghai Port Left Back, who got called in lieu of more experienced Li Lei, who is in the process of leaving Zurich Grasshoppers, and Shandong captain Zheng Zheng. Li played seven games in the league last season and five of which were as a sub with no significant playing time.


Li Shuai’s teammate Li Ang also seem not the best choice as as left-footed centre-back. But Wu Shaocong’s campaign in Turkey just got started so an alternative had to be found. Zheng Zheng and Shi Ke, the Shandong centre-back pair, both missed out.


Tang Long’s entry into this squad, was also obviously as a substitute for Zhang Yuning, who finally found the time to complete his shoulder surgery. Wang Dalei is in no way the country’s third-best keeper, but Han Jiaqi of Guangzhou City and Shao Puliang both are unfamiliar with the senior national team squad.


He Chao’s and Ren Hang’s names also stirred up talk. Neither offers a persuasive enough argument to stay in the national team despite having won the league last year, with the latter as the captain. But with the available selection pool limited, they found themselves a chance to prove themselves on the international stage.


The Shoo-ins


Wu Lei will still have to stick up for the attack in this team, as his Shanghai Port teammate Yan Junling in goal, and Zhang Linpeng and Jiang Guangtai (Tyias Browning) in front of Yan.


But the arrival of some relatively new faces is exciting and some long overdue. Xie Pengfei seems to secure a starting place after winning back-to-back league titles. Chen Pu will compete with Lin Liangmin for a starting place on the left wing. Both showed tremendous progress in the last season and will be the main side attackers in years to come. Wang Shangyuan captained and anchored a Henan team that is competitive until unexpected suspensions torpedoed the campaign. He will steady the midfield with captain Wu Xi.


The in-betweens


Liu Binbin made the national team, again. But his tendency to get injured and age may preclude his future on the national team, as the likes of Ba Dun will prove more suitable and competitive. Sun Guowen, too, can play both full-back positions but is not a good first choice for either. Wei Shihao needs to prove himself on a better team but he needs to do so before time runs out for him and younger ones take over, putting him much in the same position as Liu Binbin.


Deng Hanwen, too, will provide enough assist power but as a defender, his skills are not that up to scratch. Wang Shenchao should still be the first choice to start as right-back.


At any rate, this is still a somewhat experimental squad. With many players have declined the call-up, which really should count as a major step forward for Chinese football, Jankovic should use the opportunity to familiarise himself with the new working environment. However, he should anticipate some no-so-subtle attack should the results cause the team to drop in FIFA rankings and cause the team to move down a pot in important tournament draws.