By Michael Church
LONDON (Reuters) - Chinese Football Association president Chen Xuyuan has cranked up the pressure on head coach Li Tie by saying that the national team would have no excuse for failing to reach the next phase of Asia's qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup finals.
China are in second place in Group A of the second round of Asia's preliminaries and their hopes of claiming the only guaranteed berth in the next round are out of their own hands.
However, Chen is confident Li's team, recently bolstered by the selection of five overseas-born players in the former Everton midfielder's squad, has prepared well enough to progress.
"There's no reason (for China) not to make it to the next round," Chen told state news agency Xinhua.
"First of all, Team China has the capability of qualifying. Secondly, the players have trained and prepared for more than a year with this firm goal.
"The coaching staff has also drawn lessons from past success and failure. The CFA has been working with Team China to provide the most professional resources possible.
"We often say we need to let the people see Chinese football is making progress. But if we get eliminated at this stage, the others will think we must be slipping instead of improving."
Li's side trail group leaders Syria, who have a perfect record after five games, by eight points with the Chinese having played one match fewer than the Middle East nation.
Victory in all four of their remaining games would still leave the Chinese behind Syria should the group leaders pick up wins over the minnows Guam and the Maldives as expected.
With only the group winners certain to advance, China's best hopes of progressing could be to claim one of the four best runners-up places available in the next phase.
China's hopes were boosted when the country was awarded the hosting rights for the remaining games after the qualifiers were forced into centralised hubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I look forward to the games, and I'm confident that the players will do well," said Chen.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Christian Radnedge)