SUZHOU, China (AP) — Naturalized Brazil-born stars Elkeson and Alan helped China thrash Guam 7-0 in Suzhou on Sunday to keep its World Cup dreams alive.
The win puts China, which is hoping to add to its single World Cup appearance in 2002, five points behind Group A leader Syria with three games remaining in the second round of qualification.
Wu Lei, who plays for Spanish club Espanyol, opened the scoring after 20 minutes from the penalty spot and Jin Jingdao added a second goal shortly before the break.
Goals from Wu Lei and Wu Xi increased the lead shortly after the interval and China ran riot late in the game with Elkeson, who signed for Guangzhou FC in 2013 and became a Chinese citizen in 2019, heading a fifth. Alan, who joined Guangzhou from Red Bull Salzburg in 2015, added two more.
Only the eight group winners and the four best-placed runners-up progress to the third stage of qualification, due to start in September. That means China still has work to do against Maldives on Thursday and in subsequent matches against Philippines and Syria on June 9 and 15, respectively.
All the remaining games will take place in Suzhou as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruled that each group in the second round of qualification will be held in one centralized venue in order to reduce travel.
China is not the only Asian heavyweight to struggle. On Thursday, when a number of other teams resume their qualification campaigns for the first time since November 2019, Iran is also in need of a win.
Team Melli has appeared at the last two World Cups but coach Dragan Skokic admitted when naming his roster earlier this month that Iran has to win “pretty much all” of the four remaining games, starting against Hong Kong. Iran has six points in Group C, three behind Bahrain and five behind leader Iraq, though it has a game in hand.
Iran was unhappy when the AFC announced that the remaining games in Group C will take place in Bahrain.
“Choosing Bahrain as the centralized venue for the competition in Group C is not fair but all the teams have no way but to face us and we will undoubtedly have a strong presence and surpass this situation,” Skokic said in April.
Australia is in a much healthier position. After four wins from four, it has a two-point lead over Jordan and Kuwait in Group B as well as a game in hand on both teams. Coach Graham Arnold has named a 31-man roster to handle the challenge of playing four games in the space of 12 days in the June heat of Kuwait, starting against the host.
“When you talk about the conditions, that’s an excuse at the end of the day because the other nations have to put up with it,” Arnold said. “Once you start talking about it, it gets subconsciously put into the player’s brain and that comes up as an excuse. At that time of June, there’s five other groups that are playing in the Middle East, we are one of them.”