China Cup Preview: China v Wales
International
21 March 2018

China Cup Preview: China v Wales

Wales will open the 2018 China Cup as the highest-ranked team in the tournament when Ryan Giggs' side take on the host nation on Thursday in the first meeting between the two countries.

China v Wales

2018 China Cup

  • Thursday, 22 March 2018
  • Guangxi Sports Center, Nanning
  • Kick off: 11:35 GMT
  • Coverage: Live on BBC Wales & highlights on S4C

The new manager will take charge of his country for the first time, but with veteran Italian coach Marcello Lippi in the opposite dugout, Giggs will need to get the better of a World Cup winning manager to start this new chapter of his career with a positive result.

China PR recently moved up three places to 65th in the FIFA world rankings, while Wales remain in 20th place. However, a lot has changed since Wales last took to the field for the friendly double-header against France and Panama, and a new era under Giggs will now begin at the Guangxi Sports Centre in Nanning.

Situated in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of southern China, the 60,000 capacity stadium will host all four games in the competition, with Uruguay facing the Czech Republic in the other semi-final on Friday ahead of the final and third-place play-off that will take place on Monday.

Despite the absence of influential midfielder Aaron Ramsey and a number of weekend withdrawals, Giggs has assembled a good mix of youth and experience for the competition, and expressed his excitement of finally getting the players together when he announced his squad in Cardiff last week. 

Meanwhile, Lippi has named several players from Guangzhou Evergrande in his 27-man squad, the Chinese Super League team currently managed by his fellow countryman Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Lippi's Italy to World Cup success in 2006.

Like Wales, China PR also missed out on a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and have also only qualified for the finals of the competition once before. However, while Wales were narrowly defeated by Brazil at the quarter-final stage back in 1958 through a solitary goal from Pele, China PR were left bottom of their group in the 2002 finals after suffering three defeats and failing to score a single goal.

Despite the disappointment, World Cup qualification remains their greatest international achievement to date. But domestic football in China has made headlines in recent years, and significant investment has attracted big name players and managers from across the world to the Chinese Super League.

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Striking the balance between developing home-grown talent and raising the profile of the league remains the biggest challenge, but Team Dragon has made significant progress since Lippi's appointment back in October 2016, recording victories against the likes of Croatia, South Korea, the Philippines and Uzbekistan.

Veteran captain Zheng Zhi of Guangzhou Evergrande could have made his 100th international appearance at the China Cup, but the 37-year old former Celtic midfielder has not been included in the squad as he continues to recover from injury. 

However, club teammate and striker Gao Lin has been included, and the 32-year old is the leading scorer in the team with 20 goals from his 97 international appearances. In addition, Wales will also need to be wary of Yu Dabao, with the Beijing Guoan forward finding the net 17 times for his country in just 45 games since making his debut in 2010. 

Gareth Bale scored for Real Madrid on Sunday evening in the 6-3 win over Girona, and heads to the China Cup just two goals short of equalling Ian Rush's record of 28 goals for Wales. Meanwhile, Chris Gunter will become the most-capped outfield player for Wales should he take to the field in Nanning, having equalled the late Gary Speed's record of 85 appearances when he captained the side against Panama last November.