China recharged for Asian Cup in Oz

It is just over ten years ago when China came close to becoming Asian champion. Even without playing Japan in the final, the atmosphere at Beijing Worker's Stadium, was always going to be as raw as those famous winds that early spring brings.

Takashi Fukinishi didn't score many and stunned 60,000 fans with the opener yet when Li Ming equalised minutes later, there was belief amid the mayhem at the arena, known as Gongti.

There was a feeling that, at least, some serious success was coming the way of the Middle Kingdom that has been on the fringes for too long, watching others enjoy continental success.

The excitement at lasted until midway through the second half when Koji Nakata, who will never be known in China as 'the Other Nakata' as he is elsewhere, bundled the decisive goal over the line with what was a clear handball.

China has unfinished business with the Asian Cup and it resumes in Australia in January.

Asian Cup 2007 and 2011 brought hugely disappointing first round exits but 2015 could be different. After a decade of underachievement, 2015 could see China find its place among the upper echelons of Asian football.

Nobody is expecting the trophy but the team has nothing to fear but fear itself.

Such emotion can be used positively. For years, decades, the national team struggled to defeat its South Korean counterpart leading to the coining of that memorable phrase 'Koreaphobia', one taken up with relish by the Seoul media until the long awaited first win came, at the 29th attempt, in 2010.

With that phobia overcome, there could be a similar phrase invented for the country's fear of the latter stages.

Getting out of the group is the first hurdle for this team, both practically and psychologically. Whether it has been the last two continental tournaments or the last three attempts to qualify for the World Cup, China has always found a way not to progress past the initial group stage.

It is as strange as it is unacceptable. This trend needs to end in Australia.

It won't be easy. The group is as solid as Wanderers defence in Asia. Saudi Arabia topped China's qualification group (the Reds squeezed in as the best third-place team), Uzbekistan was a first round opponent in 2007 and 2011 and, on both occasions, progressed while China did not, and North Korea is as familiar as it is tough.

Get out of that, and anything can happen though Japan or Iraq, likely quarter-final opposition, would be tricky.

Yet, the traditional favourites are going through transitional phases. Australia has won just one of the last ten, a slightly fortunate 3-2 victory over Saudi Arabia. Japan is still struggling to find its form after a dismal World Cup with a new coach in Javier Aguirre while South Korea is at an even more uncertain point in its history under just appointed Uli Stielike. There are talented West Asian rivals but the while the likes of UAE, Iraq and perhaps Saudi Arabia are dangerous, in a knockout situation, there are always going to be possibilities.

The likes of Korea, Japan, Australia will all be calling tired European-based players while China, and its all domestic squad, can maintain its sharpness, arriving down under just a few weeks after the end of the Super League.

Having so many players, as many as nine, on the books of Guangzhou Evergrande also helps. The 2013 Asian Champions provide a settled spine to the team and makes the job of Alain Perrin, appointed in March, that much easier.

Recent results under the Frenchman are encouraging. A 3-0 win over a below-par Thailand on October 10 may not sound like much but it righted the wrong of a 5-1 home mauling from last year that marked a low point in the national team's history and cost Jose Camacho his job.

Then came a 2-1 win over Paraguay, a first South American scalp for 14 years. Zheng Zhi got on the scoresheet in his 78th appearance and Wang Dalei had an impressive game in goal.

Nobody in China expects the trophy in January but all want confirmation that the team is heading in the right direction.

Anything less than a place in the last eight would be another failure. Anything more, a genuine delight.