Experienced defender Zhang Linpeng looks set to miss China’s forthcoming World Cup qualifiers due to injury, according to a report.

The 31-year-old sustained an ankle problem while playing for Guangzhou FC in the Asian Champions League in Doha last December.

He had initially been expected to recover in six weeks, but is now reportedly a major doubt for China’s games in Suzhou, Jiangsu province in late May and June.

“Zhang Linpeng will probably be forced to miss the remaining Group A World Cup Asian qualifiers with an injury,” Guangzhou Daily reported on Sunday.

Team China wrapped up a two-week training camp in Shanghai on Saturday with a 3-0 friendly win over Chinese Super League side Shandong Taishan.

Players have now returned to their clubs to prepare for the new CSL season, which is due to kick off on April 20.

They will convene again on May 20 in Suzhou, where China will complete its Group A qualifying campaign against Guam, the Philippines, the Maldives, and Syria, from May 30 to June 15.

China is currently eight points adrift of group leader Syria, and only leads the third-place Philippines on goal difference. The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will enter the next phase of qualifying.

Zhang’s absence is a blow for Team China head coach Li Tie, who was also missing naturalized stars Fernando and Jiang Guangtai (aka Tyias Browning) at the Shanghai training camp due to injuries. Their availability for the qualifiers remains unclear.

With the injuries mounting, Li is fearful of losing any more of his charges to fitness issues.

“Please take good care and look after yourselves. See you in May,” Li wrote on social media on Sunday.

Li also voiced concerns about his players’ ability to carry out his tactical instructions as a cohesive unit, citing a lack of playing time together.

“During the qualifiers, my players’ performance in some areas may not reach my tactical requirements, as they have played together for too little time,” he said.

“But I believe that they are now more hungry for victory than in the past.”

Chinese Football Association president Chen Xuyuan had previously asked clubs to protect their Team China players from injury.

“Since the national team and the clubs are in the same boat, the clubs should protect the national team players,” he told a meeting of CSL executives.

“It calls for concerted efforts from us to guide the boat through stormy waters. If the boat is stranded, nobody will survive.”

XINHUA