By Julian Linden
BRISBANE (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia were forced to reshuffle their team before Saturday's Asian Cup clash with China after key striker Nasser Al Shamrani was ruled out of the tournament with an abdominal injury.
The reigning Asian player of the year aggravated the injury during a warm-up game against South Korea last Sunday, forcing the Saudis to play Mustafa Al-Bassas and Naif Hazaziin up front.
His loss was a major blow to the Saudis as they prepared to face China in their opening Group B match at Brisbane's Lang Park.
On recent form, Saudi Arabia will start as favourites. The Arab nation have made the final in six of the last eight Asian Cups and warmed up for the event by making the final of the Gulf Cup.
Despite their impressive record, which includes winning the Asian Cup three times, Saudi Arabia lost all three of their group matches at the 2011 tournament and have slipped to 102nd in the world rankings, six places below China.
The Chinese are looking for their first Asian Cup crown after finishing runners-up in 1984, losing the final to Saudi Arabia, then and again in 2004, when they hosted the tournament.
But China have also fallen on lean times and only just qualified for the 16-nation finals after finishing as the best third placed team in the qualifying tournament.
They were in the same group as Saudi Arabia, losing 2-1 away then playing a scoreless draw at home.
The teams have played each other 17 times in total with Saudi Arabia winning seven times, China six and the other four matches ending in draws.
Saudi Arabia - Waleed Abdullah; Saeed Al-Muwallad, Osama Hawsawi, Omar Howsawi, Yasir Al-Shahrani; Salman Al-Faraj, Saud Kariri (captain), Salem Al-Dawsari, Nawaf Al-Abid; Mustafa Al-Bassas, Naif Hazazi
China - Wang Dalei; Zhang Linpeng, Ren Hang, Zhang Chengdong, Mei Fang; Zheng Zhi, Hao Junmin, Wu Xi, Yu Hai; Ji Xiang, Wu Lei.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)