No doubt about it. China is once again targeting South Korea as their biggest roadblock in the upcoming Asian Championship. And they desperately need a revenge for the upset loss to South Korea in last year’s Asian Games, when they wasted a 7-point lead in the last minute and lost to the Koreans in overtime.
You can see that in the draw. As the host nation, China enjoys the privilege of changing the draw format that has been used in the Asian Championship for the past few years.
Instead of placing top six teams in S-order like old times, teams finishing 2nd to 11th are placed in S-order this year. The order of finish from 2nd to 11th in 2001 Asian Championship goes like this: Lebanon, Korea, Syria, Qatar, Japan, Taiwan, India, Uzbekistan, UAE and Hong Kong. Due to the no-show of UAE, 12th-place Kuwait gets into the mix. After that, the other teams go to the real draw. So…you get the picture how the preliminary grouping is decided.
The defending champ China has the right to choose which group they want to be in. They chose Group C in order to make sure they won’t face South Korea before the semifinals, even the final game.
On paper, China will win Group C and Korea is virtually guaranteed the Group B winner, since Group B is regarded as the weakest. That puts China and Korea on different second round groups.
In the second round, China should have no problem winning the group, which includes maybe Lebanon, Kuwait, Japan/or Qatar. Korea will have a tougher battle, being in the same group with Kazakhstan, Qatar/or Japan, Syria/or Iran/or Taiwan.
Plus, keep an eye on the schedule. Second round games involving C1 (Group C winner) are all scheduled at 19:30 – prime time for local TV broadcast.
Unless South Korea finishes second in the second round group, China won’t face South Korea before the championship game.
However, South Korea doesn’t send its strongest team to Harbin, with three primary players, Seo Jang-hoon, Chun Hee-chul and Hoon Joo-yup, out of the lineup because of injury.
Word is China considers bringing back Wang Zhi-zhi before Sep. 9, the deadline for submitting the final roster.
Considering all factors, I would have to say this: China is expected to get the only ticket to Athens. Everything works to their advantage. The 2003 Asian gold is China’s to lose.