World Cup qualifiers: Taiwan still searching for first group stage point

Photo: CTFA

Taiwan heads off for a Middle East double bang, against Kuwait and Jordan in search of their first-ever World Cup qualifying point. So far Taiwan have never managed to win a point in the group stages, and up to now, it has still proven to be elusive. Can Taiwan somehow come back to Taipei with the points and cause a shock? 

First group stage points prove to be elusive 

Taiwan have played three World Cup qualifiers so far, and in those three matches, there has been some good, bad and a sprinkling of the in-between. All three matches have been played at home, which means there is only one home game left. The reason for the three home games in a row is because Taiwan agreed to switch home and away fixtures with Nepal, at the request of Nepal.

Jordan was first up in the qualifiers, Jordan who had just come off the back of being one of the teams to watch at the Asian Cup. There was a sprinkling of optimism because of the time Taiwan played against Bahrain. Plus Bahrain and Jordan were fairly similar sides in the Asian Cup.

So after putting two and two together and coming out with 27, I had decided that the chance was good that Taiwan could get something from the opening game against Jordan and then would certainly defeat Nepal at home.

That was not to be, it seemed my optimism was a bit misplaced. Jordan was good, but not that good and not unbeatable, but unfortunately, they went ahead in the game 2-0. That was too much for Taiwan to come back from, Wen Chi-Hao did manage to get a consolation near the end of the game when Taiwan was pushing Jordan deeper and deeper into their own half.

Losing to Jordan wasn't the end of the world because Nepal was coming up next, but the Nepal game was a complete disaster, I recall Nepal having two shots on target, and scoring two goals. Taiwan was misfiring in this game and didn't perform well.

After Nepal, top seeds Australia rolled into Kaohsiung. It was unlikely that Taiwan would pull off a major shock by defeating Australia, but the way they performed against one of Asia's best was encouraging. Taiwan lost the game 7-1, but it was more positive than both the Jordan and Nepal match, so Taiwan seemed to have got things going in the right direction. Just in time for the Middle East doubleheader against Kuwait and Jordan.

The Middle East double bang

Taiwan arrived in Kuwait today for their Middle East double bang against Kuwait and Jordan. If Taiwan is going to pick up their first group stage point now, they are going to do it the hard way, especially if they pick up any points in either of Kuwait or Jordan's backyard.

Kuwait announced to their fans today that they will allow free entry to the game against Taiwan, which means Taiwan will also have a partisan crowd against them as they battle for that elusive point (or points).

Taiwan will go there to win, but they will be pragmatic about it, which is the best thing to do because you do want to get the Cambodia treatment and get hammered 14-0 because that is a confidence smasher. A pragmatic approach is good, but you still have to attempt to take the game to the opposition and if the Australia match was anything to go by, I believe Taiwan will set up the same way again because a lot of positives can be taken from that.

If Taiwan can improve their finishing, and take some of their chances on the break they could pose Kuwait some problems, but on the other hand, Kuwait is gonna be a tough nut to crack.

Kuwait though, isn't unstoppable and if Taiwan does take their chances, they could pull off a shock, if they don't do it in Kuwait, they will do it to someone eventually as long as they keep Louis Lancaster in charge of the side as he is creating something special with the Taiwanese national side.

A hope for Taiwan to unleash Donkin, Estevez and Hao-Wei, and another shot for Li Mao

Will Donkin, Emilio Estevez, and Chen Hao-Wei are probably Taiwan's best runners with the ball, and they often cause havoc in the opposition's defence. The only issue is Estevez and Donkin are still young compared to the others, but as the saying goes, if you're good enough, you're old enough. 

I think if the preference is to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, or have three 'runners' buzzing about with a more 'static' striker playing as a target man, then you need to have 3 players who can move about, buzz around and really cause defenders and whole lot of worry every time they get on the ball. 

Even against Australia, there were moments when the trio of Donkin, Hao-Wei and Estevez caused panic in the Aussie defence.

As things stand, with Taiwan rooted at the bottom of the qualifying table and looking like they need some impact, I would unleash the trio together and see how they do. They may be erratic at times mainly due to youth, but the defence will be worried every time they get on the ball and run at them. 

As for Li Mao, I think he deserves to get another look in. He hasn't had a sniff since he went batshit mental during the away friendly in Hong Kong. The other forwards so far haven't looked a big threat, so I believe Li Mao should be thrown in and given another crack of the whip. He is decent at holding up the ball, and with the other three lads buzzing about him, it could cause mayhem in Kuwait's half which is what Taiwan needs. 

Another option for Taiwan is to rock up with a 5 man midfield

Against Australia, Taiwan did well in a 4-5-1 formation as Chen Yi-Wei was brought in to clog up the midfield. Chen Yi-Wei is a player who should really get more playing time with the national side because he is an absolute warrior. 

His bullet header alone should have him in mind for the Middle East if Lancaster decides to clog up the midfield again. Yi-Wei complimented Po-Liang and Chih-Hao very well in the Australia fixture. I'd prefer to start out with the attacking trio buzzing about, but the triple midfield clog was good last time out and could be a winner in the Middle East double bang. 

So if Taiwan is going to acquire that elusive World Cup group stage point, then they're going to do it the hard way, against a strong, under-seeded Kuwait with a passionate backing, and an erratic, dangerous and very skilful Jordan. 

The games should be available on Alkas. 

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