Tajikistan will make their Asian Cup debut when they take on China on Saturday. The Crowns won their third-round qualification group to make their tournament debut. The Chinese punched their ticket in by placing second in their second-round qualifying group.
Preview (China vs. Tajikistan)
Though they haven’t yet won the title, the Chinese are one of the most interesting teams to watch. They are often Asian Cup contenders. Years ago, Aleksandar Jankovic started coaching this program at the youth level. In February 2023, he was promoted to senior manager. The 51-year-old Serbian team entered this event in poor form, having dropped their last three games. It included a 3-0 home loss to South Korea in the 2026 World Cup qualifying round.
Dragon’s Team lost their friendly match against Hong Kong 2-1 to start 2024. It was their first loss in 29 years. They advanced past the group stage in their last two Asian Cup competitions before falling in the quarterfinals. According to the FIFA rankings, Qatar is the only Group A team seeded higher than China. The Chinese are currently ranked 79th, 27 spots higher than Tajikistan (106). At the Asian Cup, China has won four times in a row and hasn’t lost the first game since 1996 (2-0 vs Uzbekistan).
After defeating Kyrgyzstan in their third-round qualifying group, Tajikistan—a tiny landlocked nation—solidified its place in Asian football history. However, their journey has not been easy. They finished level with Bahrain for the fewest goals scored among the third-round group winners. Their defense stayed strong when it mattered most, conceding just one goal in the third stage of qualification. In 2023, Petar Segrt witnessed a significant turnaround in the Tajiki football team’s fortunes. The Croatian helped them climb to 106th place in the FIFA rankings. It was their highest placing since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
On New Year’s Day, Wu Xi was substituted for Wang Qiuming in their friendly match against Hong Kong after the Chinese skipper sustained a hamstring injury after 36 minutes. Jian Tao was the only player selected for China in this competition who did not have an international cap; Zhang Linpeng made his 100th appearance for the national team against Hong Kong; and Zhang Yuning made his 25th appearance earlier this year, taking Tan Long’s place after he scored their lone goal in that match. Wu Lei is seven goals behind Haidong for the most goals ever with the national team, with the seasoned Shanghai Port striker now in second place at 32. Wu Lei needs nine more caps to achieve 100.
Even though they have a young team, every Tajikistani player selected for this tournament has earned at least one senior cap. The two least experienced players are Mukhidin Khasanov and Alisher Shukurov, who each have one cap and made their debut in goal in their team’s 2-1 victory over Hong Kong. They have four appearances left for Ehson Panjshanbe to achieve 50, two more for Muhammadzhon Rakhimov to reach that mark, and 77 appearances for their highest-capped senior player, Akhtam Nazarov.
Parvizdzhon Umarbayev, the captain, can tie Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev for sixth place in all-time goals scored for his nation with nine goals, while Rustam Soirov and Shashrom Samiev scored goals in their victory over Hong Kong.
China 1-1 Tajikistan
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