There was disappointment in Nanchang as China conceded a late goal and had to settle for a draw against a young New Zealand team in a contest they should have won. Captain Zheng Zhi’s spectacular 43rd minute strike put Guozu ahead, but they were punished for numerous squandered chances when Leicester City forward Chris Wood outmuscled Feng Xiaoting to head in an 87th minute equaliser.
Zheng Zhi 43′
New Zealand 1
Chris Wood 87′
Alain Perrin made four changes from the sides which started last month’s 2-1 win over Paraguay, while New Zealand’s American Head Coach Anthony Hudson had to make do without the presence of injured West Ham centre back Winston Reid and fielded a youthful side in just his second game in charge.
There were few clear opportunities in the opening stages, although the All White’s were able to assert their physical style onto the game in typical Antipodean fashion. This saw 19 year-old midfielder Bill Tuiloma receive an early booking for a heavy sliding tackle on Zheng Zhi and Chris Wood, fresh from an appearance against Southampton at the weekend, daunt the Chinese backline with his presence. Although the 22 year-old did little more than launch speculative efforts from distance in the early stages, it was clear that he was being given too much respect by his opponents as they seemed fearful of closing him down and tussling with him for the ball. It was only when Zhang Linpeng successfully challenged him in an aerial dual on 26 minutes that the mystique of the big powerful Premier League striker seemed to have been broken.
The first real chance of the game came after 18 minutes when Marco Rojas surged into the box and exchanged passes with Kosta Barbarouses only to find himself too close to Wang Dalei and unable to find his way passed the Shandong Luneng keeper. Apart from the occasional set-piece, including a Tuiloma header which bounced onto the post, that was New Zealand’s only real chance of the first half and within two minutes of Wang’s stop, Wu Lei had thrown away two opportunities to put the hosts in front. The first came when Hao Junmin played a neat through ball to Gao Lin whose deft cross Wu could only head wide while in plenty of space. The second came when Jiang Zhipeng slipped in a beautiful low pass from the left which the Shanghai Dongya youngster side footed off target.
Two more excellent Jiang Zhipeng crosses went unconverted by Hao Junmin and Sun Ke, respectively, before Zheng Zhi gave the hosts the lead with a moment of magic. A shallow Sun Ke cross was headed clear by Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith but fell to Zheng a few yards outside the penalty area. The former Charlton Athletic player took a single touch before lifting a looping volleying over goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. It was Zheng’s fifteenth goal for the national team and, with his confidence high, he attempted another long shot in first half stoppage time which Gleeson had to tip over the bar with the last touch of the half.
Early in the second period, New Zealand continued to threaten from set pieces, but it was Wu Lei once again who failed to take advantage of an excellent opportunity when he pulled an effort wide after being put through on goal by a Hao Junmin pass in the 52nd minute. However, just a minute later, New Zealand almost found themselves level when Ren Hang played a suicidal pass across his own penalty area which was nowhere near potential targets Wang Dalei or Feng Xiaoting. Barbarouses pounced on the lose ball, but Wang saved the blushes of his FA Cup final opponent when he reacted quickly and was able to get his frame in the way of the Melbourne Victory midfielder’s low shot.
China continued to control the game as yet another Hao Junmin through ball for Wu Lei caused New Zealand problems. This time Gleeson was able to smother before Wu had the chance to put it wide and as the teams began to make numerous substitutions, it appeared as though the game was going to wind down with no further scoring. Then, out of nowhere, with three minutes to go, 18 year-old debutant Deklan Wynne found himself in yards of space in the final third. Jiangsu Sainty pair Ren Hang and late substitute Wu Xi both stood around and watched idly, giving Wynne ample time to launch a pinpoint cross at Wood who found himself isolated against the physically over-matched Feng Xiaoting. The centre back tried to fight for the ball but he got nowhere near it and Wang Dalei could do little more than watch it bounce off of Wood’s head and fly passed him and into the bottom corner.
In spite of the late equaliser, there are many positives for Perrin to take away from this game. Reintroducing Hao Junmin into the international fold after an absence of two years seemed like a risky move considering that the winger had only started four league games for Shandong this season. However, he put in an excellent performance which warranted a standing ovation from fans when he was substituted off late on. Another success story was Guangzhou R&F’s Jiang Zhipeng who started at left back and created several chances while marauding down the touchline.
Had Wu Lei been more clinical in front of goal, both Hao and Jiang might have been credited with assists to go with their strong displays, but the 22 year-old has struggled both domestically and internationally as of late and helps illustrate a serious problem China are going to face at the Asian Cup in January – scoring goals. With Yang Xu out injured and Perrin wisely thinking better of starting Han Peng, Gao Lin was charged with spearheading China’s attack. While Gao did a good job of opening space for Wu Lei, he’s more effective coming in off the wings than as the lone centre forward. Yang Xu should have recovered from injury by the time of the Asian Cup and Perrin will be hoping he’s fully fit as he is, at present, China’s only viable option to take that central striking role in the tournament. With no disrespect to Yang who recently scored as a substitute against Thailand, the fact that he was unable to get a place in the Shandong starting line-up and was therefore farmed out on loan to Changchun mid-season, speaks volumes for the current standard of forwards in China.
In other areas, newly crowned Super League champion Zhang Linpeng looked dominant while partnering Guangzhou Evergrande teammate Feng Xiaoting at centre back and it seems as though this will be the national team’s central defensive pairing moving forward. Their aging teammate Zheng Zhi also shows no sign of slowing down and has cemented himself as a vital part of the squad with this performance.
Conversely, Liu Jianye’s display in the holding midfield role was far from convincing as he gave away possession in key areas on several occasions. Meanwhile, his Jiangsu Sainty teammate Ren Hang was switched from left to right back to accommodate Jiang Zhipeng and had a bit of a nightmare in his new role. He gave the ball away several times and looked defensively fragile in a position that is unnatural to him. If Jiang makes the left back position his own, it looks as though Ren will have to step out of the starting line-up and Perrin look elsewhere for a right back.
China are now unbeaten in five since June’s 3-1 reverse against Mali. A 1-1 draw against a New Zealand team with an average age of 22 is hardly a result to breed optimism, but Perrin is still experimenting and it is evident that his best team is far from decided. Time is running out, but there are still four matches to play before the squad heads to Australia and the Frenchman will have learned a lot about how his players cope with more physical opposition during this contest. The inexperienced All Whites side will be much happier than China with the draw, but there were enough encouraging signs here to show that Perrin is still taking his team in the right direction we continue to countdown to the big kickoff in January.
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