China vs. Japan will renew their rivalry on Tuesday from Khalifa International Stadium in the second match for both sides in round three of World Cup 2022 qualifying in Asia.
Dragon’s Team lost 3-0 in their first match in Group B to Australia, while the Japanese conceded a late strike and were upset 1-0 by Oman.
For a fourth successive time, the Chinese have made it to the third round of qualifying in Asia, and they are hoping that this can finally be the year where they clear what could be that final hurdle.
In their 2018 qualifying campaign, they were as close as they had ever been to making the finals since their only World Cup appearance in 2002, finishing in fifth but just three points behind South Korea for second and one back of Syria, who finished third and advanced to a fourth-round playoff.
At the end of the day, it came down to an opening game defeat to South Korea and a late goal which they conceded in their second game against Syria, which ended up being their undoing.
Making it into the top two in their group or even coming in third to earn a fourth-round playoff will not be easy this time around, especially given that they will have to finish above three teams (Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia), who have only missed two World Cup finals between them since the 2006 campaign.
In the last round, the Chinese were very impressive, losing only one of their eight games, scoring 30 goals while conceding only three.
Their manager, Li Tie, may not have a ton of experience as the boss, but he has served as an assistant for some renowned coaches, including former Lyon boss Alain Perrin and Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to a World Cup triumph in 2006.
It has been more than 27 years since Japan missed out on their first World Cup appearance in heartbreaking fashion, conceding a goal in the 90th minute to Iraq, enabling South Korea to advance on goal difference.
Since that day, Japanese football has come a long way as they have never missed out on the finals since 1994, finishing first in their group in the final qualifying stage in each of their last four campaigns.
Hajime Moriyasu, an assistant to Akira Nishino at the 2018 finals, took over shortly after Belgium eliminated Japan in the Round of 16.
Since squandering a two-goal lead to the Red Devils, this team have failed to win only twice when scoring first, and they have been sharp defensively in 2021, conceding only three goals while scoring 37.
In their first match of the third-round last week, they wasted plenty of good opportunities against Oman, with 65% possession, but they were stunned by an 88th-minute strike versus a side who had a pass accuracy of 63%.
Their defeat to Belgium in the last World Cup was the last time in which they had suffered a loss as the official visiting side, while they have only conceded one goal in their previous six road fixtures, including a walloping 14-0 win over Mongolia in March.
Espanyol striker Wu Lei is a man to watch out for on the Chinese squad, with eight goals in the qualifiers thus far and the only member of the current team who plays his club football outside of China.
Yang Xu has contributed four goals to this campaign, as he has 29 goals in 55 appearances for his country, good for second-most all-time but well back of Hao Haidong, who scored 41 times for the national side between 1992 and 2004.
Veteran midfielder Hao Junmin has 83 caps for his country, putting him in 10th, just three back of Li Ming and Ma Mingyu, while goalkeeper Yan Junling has conceded four goals in his last two games, though he did not get much help from his defence last week as the Socceroos had nine shots on target while the Chinese had none.
The Samurai Blue have gotten 17 goals from two players in the first two qualifying rounds, with Takumi Minamino scoring nine and Yuya Osako with eight.
Sampdoria defender and Japanese captain Maya Yoshida needs just three more caps to surpass Yuji Nakazawa for seventh all-time, although he is still well behind his teammate at the back, Yuto Nagatomo, who sits in second with 126 appearances.
Sho Sasaki scored his first international goal in their last victory in June, 5-1 over Kyrgyzstan, while Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi already has three goals in four Scottish Premiership matches this season, with the 26-year-old notching three in only seven international appearances.
China possible starting lineup:
Yan; Wang, Browning, Li, Zhang; Hao, Jin, Wu Xi; Wu Lei, Alan, Elkeson
Japan possible starting lineup:
Gonda; Sasaki, Ueda, Yoshida, Nagatomo; Endo, Shibasaki; Doan; Furuhashi, Kubo, Osako