China coach Ivankovic downplays favorite position ahead of Singapore game
Published: Mar 20, 2024 08:34 PM
Branko Ivankovic Photo: Xinhua

Branko Ivankovic Photo: Xinhua

China's national soccer team head coach Branko Ivankovic insisted on Wednesday that there are no stronger or weaker teams in soccer as he downplayed China's favorite position in the buildup to the World Cup Asian qualifiers against Singapore.

The Chinese team will take on Singapore on away pitch on Thursday, with a home game in North China's Tianjin against the same team next Tuesday.

"In soccer, there are no truly strong or weak teams. We respect our opponents while also respecting ourselves, approaching the game with determination," Ivankovic told reporters at a pre-match news conference in Singapore on Wednesday. "Rankings mean nothing; however, I anticipate a tough match tomorrow."

Currently China sits at 88th place in the FIFA world rankings, while Singapore is at No.156.

"We approach the game against Singapore with the utmost respect. We've studied the footage of Singapore's previous three matches in the qualifiers; our opponents are formidable. We aim to harness this motivation to strive for victory," he said. 

The national team, which had a disappointing run at the AFC Asian Cup in January, underwent 10 days of training in South China's Shenzhen recently, with Ivankovic expressing great satisfaction with the preparations.

"I'm pleased with our preparations over the past 10 days. Our players have gained a thorough understanding of our tactics and playing style. They've shown excellent cohesion and concentration, with both new and experienced players fully committed to the cause."

The game in Singapore marks Ivankovic's first match leading the national team, and when asked about their World Cup aspirations, the Croatian coach didn't shy away.

"I've stated from our first press conference that our goal is to qualify for the World Cup. Asian soccer has developed rapidly over the past decade, with 8.5 berths available," the 70-year-old said. "We have no retreat and no choice but to give it our all."

"We demand cohesion to adapt to modern soccer's evolution, with reasonable distance control between the three lines being a fundamental tactical requirement. The key is to stick to our principles."

Zhang Linpeng, a veteran defender and now captain of the national team, unveiled that Ivanovic has brought some tactical changes to the team.

"Since the new coach's arrival, there have been many changes, especially in terms of tactics. The changes extend beyond the pitch; the coach has clarified our objective, which is to qualify for the World Cup," Zhang said. 

"He has instilled confidence in us, emphasizing that both defenders and forwards must showcase their abilities."