Coach Ricki Herbert has personal experience of what it’s like to play for one of the world’s smallest nations against the planet’s largest – experience that will help his Maldives team in their FIFA World Cup campaign.
In 1982, Herbert was a teenage defender whose New Zealand team overcame China in a World Cup play-off that saw the All Whites reach their first finals tournament.
Now, 34 years on, the Maldives face China in a World Cup group qualifying match in the 54,000-seater Wuhan Sports Centre Stadium (to be played 7.35pm Thursday, China time, or 12.35am Friday, NZT).
Herbert has named a squad of 18 for the tie but has been forced to leave out team captain Ali Ashfaq, striker Asadhulla Abdulla and defender Amdhan Ali who are all on the injured list. Goalkeeper Mohamed Imran and Mohamed Arif missed selection, while ‘keeper Abdulla Fayaz has been added to the squad.
China go into the qualifier as hot favourites, sitting third on the qualifying table with 11 points from their six games. They trail Qatar and Hong Kong in the group but are expected to perform strongly on their home turf.
The last meeting between the teams – before Herbert took over as Maldives coach – was last September when China beat the Maldives 3-0. Since then, Herbert has coached the full Maldives national team and U-23 side to five wins and two draws from his 12 games in charge.
Maldives’ five most recent international results:
12 November 2015 Maldives v Hong Kong 0-1 (L)
24 December 2015 Maldives v Bhutan 3-1 (W)
26 December 2015 Bangladesh v Maldives 1-3 (W)
28 December 2015 Afghanistan v Maldives 4-1 (L)
31 December 2015 India v Maldives 3-2 (L)
After Thursday’s match, the Maldives’ next international action is against Bhutan on March 29 at the National Stadium, Male.
China: Yang Zhi, Liu Jianye, Rao Weihui, Yu Yang, Wang Tong, Lei Tenglong, Gu Cao, Li Ang, Jin Yangyang, Liu Binbin, Li Xuepeng, Song Boxuan, Piao Cheng, Zhang Wenzhao, Zhang Lu, Liao Lisheng, Hao Junmin, Zhao Xuri, Gao Lin, Zhang Jiaqi, Gao Di, Yang Chaosheng.
Maldives: Imran Mohamed, Samooh Ali, Hussain Niyaz Mohamed, Ahmed Abdulla, Ahmed Imaaz, Ansar Ibrahim, Samdhooh Mohamed, Ismail Easa, Hassan Naiz, Ali Ashadh, Ali Fasir, Ahmed Nashid, Hamza Mohamed, Shafiu Ahmed, Mohamed Faisal, Moosa Yamin, Gasim Samaam, Abdulla Fayaz.