Team China head coach Li Tie on Wednesday concluded a 17-day training camp with his squad in Shanghai. China's remaining World Cup qualifiers have reportedly been penciled in for October or November. (Photo: China Daily)
Team China head coach Li Tie is refusing to cut his players any slack despite international soccer's ongoing indefinite suspension.
The national team's latest training camp, a 17-day-long effort in Shanghai, ended on Wednesday, with notoriously tough taskmaster Li pushing his 27-strong squad to its limits.
Team China's postponed World Cup qualifiers are reportedly penciled in for October or November, however that plan is liable to be pushed back too as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sow uncertainty around the world.
At home, club soccer is still awaiting a kickoff date for its delayed season, giving Li plenty of opportunity to work with his charges, who have recently been joined by a third naturalized player, Brazil-born Aloisio of Guangzhou Evergrande.
With the players starved of competitive action in recent months due to the pandemic, Li arranged friendlies against local Chinese Super League squads Shanghai SIPG and Shanghai Shenhua, with Team China running out 4-1 and 4-0 victors, respectively.
Despite the goal rush, strict disciplinarian Li was keener to talk about the weaknesses he spotted during those games than the obvious plus points.
"The aim of the training camp is to adjust the national team to the pace of World Cup qualifiers," said Li on Tuesday.
"Through the training camp, we'll hone our tactics. The coaching team is also assessing the newcomers through warm-up matches. But we've identified many problems and we will work hard to solve these in the future."
Even with the camp finished, Li reminded his players of their national duties, writing on social media on Thursday: "Thanks to all the members in the team for your joint efforts and thanks to all the players. I hope you can understand my strictness.
"We have the national duty on our shoulders, so we have to make more effort than others. Hope we can see each other soon!"
Whenever international action does resume, Team China faces a daunting task of trying to book a ticket to the 2022 World Cup finals with four more first-round qualifiers to play.
China is eight points adrift of Group A leader Syria and only leads third-place Philippines on goal difference. The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will enter a second phase of Asian qualifying.
Whether or not the Asian Football Confederation can meet its reported October or November resumption target, soccer's shutdown is affording coach Li plenty of time to integrate Aloisio into his plans. Another Brazil-born Evergrande player, Alan, is also eligible for Team China and has been tipped to earn a future call-up.
Aloisio, who now also goes by his Chinese name Luo Guofu, was granted citizenship this year and joins Brazil-born Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and England-born Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris) as the third naturalized player in the squad.
However, after declaring himself eager to "deliver great performances" for his adopted country earlier this month, the 31-year-old Aloisio's first Team China training stint ended on a sour note after he injured himself 29 minutes into the friendly against SIPG.
According to reports, the leg injury requires a month-long recovery period, with the forward, who has played in China since 2014 after arriving at Shandong Luneng from Sao Paulo, staying with the national squad to conduct his rehab.
Better news for Li was the form of the other Brazil-born star in his squad, Ai Kesen, with the former SIPG player finding the net in the second half against Shenhua.
The arrival of the naturalized stars has upped the intensity by all accounts, with coach Li challenging everyone to play their way into his first-XI plans.
"No matter if you are a naturalized player or a homegrown player, the door of the national team is open to all who want to serve their country," Li said before the camp kicked off.
Li's words appeared to have the desired effect, with defender Yu Dabao admitting that, while the naturalized contingent "get along well with the domestic players", competition for starting berths is now "fierce".
"For us, this is a brand new national team, and every player is trying his best from the beginning," said Yu, of Beijing Guo'an.
"There are only 11 spots on the pitch, so everyone is fighting for a starting position. Each position, there are two or three good players competing.
"At each game, each player should give his best performance to impress the head coach... now the starting XI is still not determined. The coach wants more chances for everyone."