Asian Cup preview: Saudi Arabia v China
Both teams have used the last few days to settle into Brisbane and acclimatise to the local weather conditions.
Saudi Arabia gained the upper hand over China when the two teams were in the same qualification group for this tournament. China’s 0-0 home draw in November 2013 proved crucial to their qualification and was the last time these two teams met.
China, however, head into the clash undefeated in their last 10 games, including an impressive 4-1 win over Oman on Australian soil.
While some of the Omani defence was questionable, China gained valuable confidence during the friendly and will take this into their opening clash.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia have lost their last three games, including two warm-up matches in Australia.
Romanian coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, must now attempt to rebuild much needed team morale as his team look to improve on their 15th place finish in the 2011 Asia Cup.
Conceding four goals against Bahrain is worrying coming into the tournament but the squad did look much better against South Korea in their 2-0 loss.
The opening clash will be a significant one for both teams with genuine hopes of progressing through an even group.
Played 17: Saudi Arabia 7 wins, Draws 4, China 6 wins
Don’t expect this clash to start off with a bang. Both coaches will want to begin well and don’t discount nerves. The first 20 minutes will be spent merely feeling out the opposition and hoping to take advantage of a defensive error. Neither team will want to concede early, handing the advantage to their competitor.
The big issue
The man with the clipboard holds more intrigue than any on the Saudi Arabian team. Having only held the position of coach since December 15, Cosmin Olaroiu must lead the national team into their biggest tournament of the four-year cycle with less than a month in charge, a massive task for any coach. Results have not fallen their way of late and if the actions of striker Nasser Al-Shamrani in Geelong are anything to go by – where he pushed a fan – the team isn’t in the perfect mindset to enter such a big tournament.
Comments made by Olaroiu following the South Korean game already sound as though the Green Falcons are merely here to make up the numbers and will be leaving Australian shores after the group stages.
Quality goalkeepers in Asia are few and far between but China has one in Guangzhou Evergrande’s Zeng Cheng. Boasting a number of clean sheets at national level, the quality shot stopper will be an important player if China are to open their campaign with a win and significantly boost their prospects of progression. Over the next month we are bound to see some defensive blunders, but don’t expect any from the 2013 Chinese Football Association Goalkeeper of the Year.
China 3 - 1 Saudi Arabia
China should start the tournament well and account for Saudi Arabia. Neither team will dictate the speed of the game across the pitch. China is too strong defensively and this should be enough to see them take the three points.