Qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup kicks off today with China under the microscope after a miserable 2008, in contrast to heavyweights Australia and Japan, who are expected to coast.
China, with Yin Tiesheng as interim coach after Serbian Vladimir Petrovic quit when the team crashed out of 2010 World Cup contention last June, face a tricky first game away to Syria.
Yin has been put in charge only for their opening two Asian Cup qualifiers but knows the side need a win to boost their confidence.
He has vowed to restore discipline.
“I will be in charge of the team for a short period, and I hope I can instil a fighting spirit into the team,” Yin said. “Maybe this will be the most noticeable change I can bring to the team.”
Lebanon and Vietnam are also in their group and play each other today with only the top two from each group making the finals.
Australia and Japan must go through the motions and qualify for the showpiece in Qatar after failing to shine at the last event in 2007.
Five teams though will sit back and watch the action knowing they have already booked their tickets.
Qatar qualify automatically as hosts while Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea are assured of their places after finishing as the top three teams in 2007 tournament.
India make the finals for the first time since 1984 after winning the AFC Challenge Cup last year, an event featuring second tier Asian nations. The winner of the 2010 tournament will also go through to the finals.
Australia, whose initiation in Asian soccer after defecting from the Oceania confederation was at the 2007 Asian Cup, are in group B that also includes 1980 champions Kuwait, Indonesia and Oman.
They don’t open their campaign until later in the month and will have a chance to scout their opposition when Oman host Indonesia on Monday.
Japan, three-time winners of the Asian Cup, face Yemen in their opener at home on Tuesday. Bahrain and Hong Kong complete their group.
Iran, also three-time champions, host Singapore today with nothing short of victory expected from coach Ali Daei.
Also in their group are Jordan and Thailand, who clash today in Amman.
The final group only has three teams — Uzbekistan, UAE, and Malaysia. India were initially drawn in this group but progressed automatically with the Challenge Cup victory.
Qatar was the only country that bid for the tournament after India and Iran pulled out. It will be held in January 2011 with the only other FIFA window available, in July and August, considered too hot in the Gulf region.