The Chinese National Team ran out 3-0 winners over a poor Thailand side and gained some measure of revenge for last year’s 5-1 humiliation at the hands of the Southeast Asians.
Despite absolutely dominating possession and playing most of the game in the opposition half, the home side had to wait until the 61st minute for their opener which came courtesy of an embarrassing own goal from goalkeeper Hathairattanakool. 83rd and 87th minute goals from substitutes Sun Ke and Yang Xu wrapped up the win, but the truth is, the game should have been out of Thailand’s reach long before the final ten minutes.
Hathairattanakool (OG) 63′
Sun Ke 84′
Yang Xu 88
Indeed, it took the hosts all of 41 seconds to have their first of 22 shots when energetic midfielder Wu Xi dragged a low, twenty yard effort wide of the post. This set the tone for a first half in which China used their obvious physical advantage to bully the Thais out of the contest, while failing to create many clear cut opportunities of their own.
In their 4-2-3-1 formation, it was attacking wide men Zhang Chengdong and Yu Hai who looked the most threatening going forward, and it was they who were involved in the two best chances of the first half. The first of these came on 21 minutes when Zhang brought down a cleverly chipped, Feng Xiaoting through-ball with a beautiful first touch, only to swipe the ball over from eight yards out with his second.
Fourteen minutes later, Feng once again acted as provider by winning the ball in the middle of the field, carrying it forward and laying it off to Yu Hai on the edge of the area. The Guizhou man’s low shot to the far post was palmed away by Hathairattanakool only for ineffective striker Han Peng to waste the rebound by under-hitting a square-ball back across goal.
Yu, whose one-sided tussle down the left wing with the diminutive number 10 Jakkraphan Pornsai emphasized the physical gulf between the teams, was sacrificed at half-time in favour of Sun Ke, and although the Jiangsu winger looked lively, the first 15 minutes of the second half followed the trend of the first period and led to an increasing sense of frustration and pessimism amongst those in attendance.
Thankfully, just as it felt as though the atmosphere might turn sour, Hathairattanakool gave home fans something to celebrate by inexplicably palming a cross into his own net. Wu Lei set Zhang Chengdong free down the right and the Guo’an winger pinged the ball towards an onrushing Wu Xi. The Jiangsu man completely missed his downward header, but his effort must have distracted the keeper who was already going down to his left to save the phantom header, only to see the ball ricochet backwards off of his fully outstretched right arm and over the goal line. It was a bizarre goal and it was all the more remarkable because, up until that point, Hathairattanakool had looked very comfortable in dealing with the numerous crosses being flung in to his penalty area – an incredible 37 over the course of the game.
The goal not only had the effect of relaxing the home team by getting the fans fully behind them again, it also seemed to break the defensive will of the Thais. In the final thirty minutes China looked progressively more dangerous and they finally got a second when a corner from Liao Lisheng headed down by Guangzhou Evergrande team-mate Li Xuepeng into the path of Sun Ke who hooked the ball into the net as he fell. It was the 25 year-old’s fourth goal for his country but he should have added a couple more to the tally as he wasted two good chances inside the box. The first saw him fire hopelessly over from about 12 yards when he had time to compose himself, while the second saw him go one better from a similar distance by hitting the target – unfortunately, it did little more than roll meekly into the arms of Hathairattanakool.
The final goal came after another neat through-ball from Feng Xiaoting to Yang Xu who supplied a calm finish when through one on one with Hathairattanakool. Unfortunately, he was unable to satisfy the fans’ desire for their team to score a fourth when in a similar situation a couple of minutes later as the Thai shot-stopper was quicker off his line and able to block the danger.
This win goes some way towards burying the awful memories of last year’s four goal loss to the same opponents in Hefei. While that result cost Jose Antonio Camacho his job, this one shows that Alain Perrin is taking the team in the right direction. However, it would be naïve to think that this game offers any real insight into how China will perform when they arrive in Australia this January for the Asian Cup. A good indication of how seriously Thailand took their trip north is that they chose to only bring a squad of fifteen players with them when they could have brought as many as twenty-seven.
It’s quite remarkable to think that because China used all six substitutes permitted in friendly matches, they actually had more players take the field than the Thais had in their entire squad. Another sign that this game is an inaccurate barometer of progress is that Thailand only managed three shots all game with only one on target. If China are to get past the group stages Down Under they’ll need to get through Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and North Korea. Those sides won’t be pushed around in the same way today’s opposition were and that not only means the defence will come under more pressure, but that the team will have to do more with their possession as they won’t have nearly as much of it. One particular issue is that if 37 crosses an only produce one open play goal against a team the size of Thailand, what kind of ratio will we see against sturdier opposition?
All these concerns aside, the 21,000 Wuhanese who braved the 1-2 hour traffic-ridden journey from downtown to the Zhuankou stadium (probably one of the most inaccessible stadiums in China) could at least go home feeling happy that they saw their team win with the kind of result that, just a few years ago, would have been taken for granted against this calibre of opposition. So while Guozu may still be some way off being able to hang with Asia’s heavyweights, they have re-instilled a little bit of pride in their fans and, hopefully, themselves.
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