China PR fans will put their faith in the attacking form of Wang Yongpo as their team faces a must-win scenario against Uzbekistan at home next week in the penultimate fixture of Asian third round qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.
Wang, nicknamed 'Chinese Rooney' by local media and fans alike, figured prominently as they shocked favourites Korea Republic 1-0 in March. Playing his first international since 2015, the midfielder impressed on his return, threatening constantly from the flank before his dangerous corner was headed home by Yu Dabao for the match-winner. The victory - their first in the third round - provided just a glimmer of hope for Team Dragon.
Five months on, Marcello Lippi's side again face a do-or-die scenario, knowing that nothing fewer than three points will keep their flickering hopes alive. Wang, though, remains upbeat that they can clinch another home win.
"We will try our best to defeat them and playing in front of our supporters is a boost," the 30-year-old Tianjin Quanjian midfielder told FIFA.com. "Our aim is to win, although our hopes are not that big.
“Meanwhile, we need to remain aware that Uzbekistan are one of Asia’s strongest sides. Personally, it is a team which I like. They are well-organised and play good football."
This season has seen Wang's career enjoy a boost since his move to Tianjin. The former Shandong Luneng player spent the majority of last year nursing an injury and gradually lost his place among the starting team. However, an unexpected phone call from Tianjin’s new coach Fabio Cannavaro changed everything.
"I didn't have enough playing time last year," Wang said. "But all of a sudden coach Cannavaro contacted me and after speaking to him, I decided that I should move."
Cannavaro’s instinct proved right. Since joining Tianjin, Wang has rediscovered his previous form. He has so far scored once and provided six assists from 16 league appearances as his newly-promoted side pushed their way into the Chinese Super League’s top-five.
"Cannavaro is a good coach," Wang said about Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain. "He is strict and serious with the details during training, and will immediately stop you and point out what to do.
“Above all, though he shows belief in us, and is ready to help you both on and off the pitch. For me, he is like an older brother who cares about you and urges you to do better."
Wang's rejuvenation didn't go unnoticed by Lippi, who gave him his first national team call-up in nearly 18 months for March’s crunch tie against Korea Republic. "The coach watched me play in the season curtain-raiser, and happily I received my first national team call-up after such a long period. And it was against Korea Republic. I told myself, ‘Do your best and don't let the people around you down’."
Helped by the impetus provided by Wang, China finished the first half leading 1-0. And Wang said Lippi's half-time dressing room talk was the spur for victory.
"Coach Lippi didn't praise us during the break,” Wang said. “Instead, he was not satisfied with our intention of sitting back. He asked us to maintain the pressure.
“In the past, we would look to play deep after taking the lead. But Lippi showed us different way of thinking. And we duly won an important game."
With their Russia 2018 hopes dangling in the balance, the veteran Wang all too aware how significant donning the national team shirt is. “What I have in mind is to cherish the playing chances I have, work hard and try to play good football.”