Kunming's Tuodong Stadium has been selected as the site of the March 26 World Cup qualifying match between China and Australia's national soccer (football) teams as they fight to advance through what has been dubbed the "group of death" – a qualifying group that also includes powerhouses Iraq and Qatar. Only the group winner and runner-up will advance to the World Cup.
Each team will bear its own unique burden going into the stadium, with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
For China, the pressure to qualify for the World Cup is immense. China has only managed to qualify for the global soccer tournament once – in 2002, by beating Oman in the freezing weather of wintry Shenyang. After failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and with the country preparing to hold the Olympics this year, there is national pride at stake, but there is also a hefty bonus riding on the team's ability to qualify.
The China Football Association has pledged to give eight million yuan to the national team should it qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Furthermore, the team will receive 500,000 yuan for each victory over a nation ranked in the world top 50 and 300,000 yuan for defeating lesser-ranked teams.
Last week the Beijing Youth Daily reported that the Chinese team took a New Year's oath to qualify for the World Cup, reciting:
"I pledge to advance to the World Cup, which is the professional goal that we strive for... we swear by death to kill along the bloody road of defending the honor of the motherland and realize our youthful dreams."
For Australia, aside from having to play strong teams from Iraq and Qatar, the Socceroos will have to cope with Kunming's high altitude. At roughly 1,900 meters above sea level, Tuodong Stadium poses a major challenge to Australia, which has no high-altitude training facilities of its own.
Australia is now filtering through player files from 2005 to determine which of its players are best- and least-suited to playing at high altitude. Australian media is viewing China's selection of Kunming as a strategic move to disrupt the Australian side.
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