China head coach Marcello Lippi stretches during a training session in Wuhan, Hubei Province on Tuesday ahead of their World Cup qualifier at home to Uzbekistan on Thursday. Photo: CFP
China face a tough battle against Uzbekistan in their World Cup campaign on Thursday in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, as they struggle to deal with the absence of key players.
Center forward Zhang Yuning was kicked out of the training session by coach Marcello Lippi after Zhang failed to reach an agreement with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen for an early release for the national team.
It leaves Lippi with only three forwards - Wu Lei of Shanghai SIPG, Gao Lin of Guangzhou Evergrande and Xiao Zhi of Guangzhou R&F in his 24-man squad.
China are bottom of their qualifying group with just one victory in eight games. They need to win both their remaining matches if they want to keep their flickering World Cup hopes alive.
Lippi's team need goals if they want to send themselves off the bottom of the group and into the third place and a playoff spot.
China have only scored five goals but conceded nine.
China sit in the 77th in the latest FIFA rankings - the eighth in Asia - while visitors Uzbekistan are 64th in the world.
Evergrande midfielder Huang Bowen will skip the final two World Cup qualifying games, as he was ruled out for the season due to a waist injury he picked in mid-August.
Versatile midfield strongman Wu Xi of Jiangsu Suning also misses the session due to injury.
Some have pinned their hopes on Hebei China Fortune's 27-yaer-old Yin Hongbo, who only debuted for China earlier this year in a friendly series, to partner with captain Zheng Zhi in the midfield against Uzbekistan.
"I hope we can do what we are capable of in the match," Yin told reporters ahead of a training session on Tuesday. "I hope I can play with more confidence and make some contributions [in scoring]."
Chinese Super League (CSL) teams also harbor several Uzbekistan internationals, including captain Odil Ahmedov, who played a key role in helping SIPG rout CSL giants Evergrande 4-0 in the Asian Champions League.
Ahmedov have scored twice against China for Uzbekistan at the Asian Cups in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
Changchun Yatai's 22-year-old midfielder He Chao, who is yet to make his debut for the national team, said Tuesday he has told his clubmate Anzur Ismailov to "leave Wuhan with three points to China."
"We have known their vulnerability," he said. "The game on Thursday will tell what we have done in our preparation for it."