China comfortably defeated a poor Kyrgyz side in what amounted to little more than a training match for Alain Perrin’s men in the somewhat obscure location of Chengzhou, Hunan.
Wu Lei’s 35th minute strike added to a 19th minute own goal and a second half brace from Yang Xu sealed the home side’s easy win. However, victory over the side ranked 153rd in the FIFA rankings was not the main object of this encounter which was used as testing ground for Perrin who is trying to finalise his squad and starting line-up for next month’s Asian Cup in Australia.
The game was the first of the three friendlies to be played this week before the squad for the competition is announced, and the Frenchman has stated that the twenty-three players heading Down Under will be selected from the thirty he has at his disposal for this trio of matches.
Own Goal 19′(pen)
Wu Lei 34′
Yang Xu 34′, 79’
In an effort to view the majority of his squad in action, Perrin substituted all ten outfield players at half time meaning only Shanghai SIPG’s debutant goalkeeper Fan Yunling remained on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. Unfortunately for Fan, this won’t count as his first official cap because the wholesale changes meant that the FIFA sanctioned maximum of six substitutions in a friendly was exceeded and so this game will not be recognised as an official international. The keeper was not the only participant denied their first cap by Perrin’s rampant alterations as attacking duo Liu Binbin and Yang Chaosheng were promoted from the under-22 team which recently took part in a tournament in Wuhan and given their first run outs in the full national side as part of the second-half contingent.
When the 21-year-olds came on, they did so with a two goal advantage, but it should have been more as the home side absolutely dominated the first half. It was clear from the opening few minutes that the Central Asians were going to struggle and in the first quarter of an hour Zhao Xuri, Hao Junmin and Wu Lei were all guilty of firing over the bar from just outside the area when they ought to have done better. However, the breakthrough looked like it was imminent and it arrived courtesy of a little bit of luck. In the 19th minute, Hao Junmin floated a free kick into the box and another debutant, right-back Ji Xiang, did very well to head across the goal and onto the far post. The rebound bounced off of the shin of a hapless Kyrgyz shin and over the goal line despite the desperate effort of the goalkeeper to claw the ball away.
Galvanised by the goal, China created and squandered several chances over the next 15 minutes much to the chagrin of Perrin. Gao Lin shot straight at the goalkeeper after being put through by Wu Lei and then the latter hooked a volley from inside the penalty area wide before providing a knock down for Gao who stabbed at the ball but was unable to get it on target. Fortunately, the perennially active Wu was finally able to make the pressure count when he took advantage of some incredibly slack marking to divert a Sun Ke cross into the net after 34 minutes.
There is no doubt that the ten half time replacements continued to have the better of the game in the second period, but they failed to dominate in the same way their first half counterparts had. China still created plenty of opportunities, but the shielding midfield pair of Liao Lisheng and Liu Jianye failed to protect the back four with the same success Zheng Zhi and Zhao Xuri had in the first half and this led to more chances for the visitors. This was evidenced when centre back Mei Fang and attack minded left back Jiang Zhipeng were both called upon to make excellent last ditch blocks to stymie the Kyrgyz attack.
At the other end of the field it is Yang Xu who will take the plaudits for his double, but they were both poachers’ finishes which masked an otherwise uninspiring performance from the forward who has just returned to fitness after a two month injury lay off. The first of his goals came in the 57th minute after right back Zhang Chengdong’s cross was met by a spectacular looking Yang Chaosheng bicycle kick. Yang’s effort was straight at the goalkeeper, but he gifted the Shandong Luneng man an easy finish by spilling the ball at his feet. The second, coming eleven minutes from time, also involved Yang Chaosheng who squared a short cross to teammate Yu Hanchao who did well to head his blocked shot across to Yang Xu who once again found himself in a situation where it would be harder to miss.
Of China’s numerous other second half opportunities, the best two arrived between the goals and came courtesy of Liu Binbin who was playing just behind the striker as opposed to in the wider role he normally takes with Shandong Luneng. The first came in the 63rd minute when he dinked a neat cross in for Yu Hanchao after chasing an excellent through-ball down to the by-line. Yu should have done better with his close range header, but ten minutes later Liu looked dangerous again as he surged through the midfield before firing a powerful 25-yard effort onto the crossbar. The rebound fell to Yang Chaosheng who lacked composure and shanked his effort off target after taking an eternity to line it up.
A 4-0 win is nothing to be sniffed at, but in this kind of game the performance is always more important than the result. There are plenty of positives to be taken from this contest but one has to wonder whether Perrin’s decision to play two experimental sides in the same game simply raises more questions about team selection at a time when the Frenchman really needs to start finding some answers. It looks as though the team chosen in the first half will provide the main body of the starting eleven, which appears certain to turn out in a 4-2-3-1 in Australia, but there were still several positions filled by players that are not obvious first choices.
Fullbacks Li Xuepeng and Ji Xiang were playing in those positions for the first time under Perrin (and in the latter’s case, ever), while the physically imposing Li Ang, who was also brought in from the under-22 team to partner Zhang Linpeng at centre back, is an exciting prospect for the future but is not likely to unseat veteran Feng Xiaoting who appeared in the second half. Zhao Xuri accompanied Zheng Zhi in the holding midfield positions, but he was only drafted into the squad as a late replacement for the injured Zhang Jiaqi and, therefore, it’s hard to believe that Perrin sees him as a starter. The former Portsmouth manager seems to have been favouring Cai Huikang for the role in recent matches, but the stocky Shanghai SIPG man didn’t feature at all, while hot prospect Liao Lisheng and, particularly, Jiangsu Sainty captain Liu Jianye failed to cover themselves in glory during their second half displays.
Meanwhile, the front four of Gao Lin, Wu Lei, Hao Junmin and Sun Ke, who all started the game, may well be Perrin’s preferred options to turn out in their opening group match against Saudi Arabia on January 10th in Brisbane. In this regard there is plenty of cause for optimism as the quartet looked dangerous and created a lot of chances, but they will need to be more ruthless against the sterner tests they will encounter in Australia. Kyrgyzstan were apparently picked as warm-up opponents because they are seen as comparable to fellow Central Asians Uzbekistan who will face China in their second group game on January 14th. However, it is obvious that apart from their status as former Soviet Republics and the ‘stan, the Kyrgyz bear little relation to their much stronger neighbours who reached the semi-finals of the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar and have made it to the final playoff for World Cup qualification on two out of the last three occasions.
These two teams will face off again on Wednesday in what is likely to be another one sided contest that features numerous substitutions and teaches us little. Then, next Saturday, China play their final game before the Asian Cup squad is announced against Palestine who will be joining them in Australia for their first ever appearance in the continental finals. That game ought to be more competitive and it is quite possible that Perrin will use at as an opportunity to field what he believes to be his strongest side. This cakewalk against the Krygyz may not have offered much of a spectacle for viewers, but it marks the start of a pivotal week for those thirty players tussling for a seat on the plane to Australia and a spot on the field in Brisbane, Accordingly, all those with an interest in China’s Asian Cup fate will be keeping a close eye on how things develop over the next seven days.
Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1 listed from right to left): 12 – Fan Yunling: 8 – Li Xuepeng, 5 – Zhang Linpeng, 2 – Li Ang, 14 – Ji Xiang: 10 – Zheng Zhi, 7 – Zhao Xuri: 13 – Sun Ke, 19 – Wu Lei, 11 – Hao Junmin: 18 – Gao Lin
Second Half Line-up (4-2-3-1 listed from right to left): 12 – Fan Yunling: 17 – Zhang Chengdong, 3 – Mei Fang, 6 – Feng Xiaoting, 4 – Jiang Zhipeng: 23 – Liao Lisheng, 8 – Liu Jianye: 22 – Yang Chaosheng, 21 – Liu Binbin, 20 – Yu Hanchao: 9 – Yang Xu
Alain Perrin’s 30-Man Squad – (listed in their most common positions)
Goalkeepers: Zeng Cheng (Guangzhou Evergrande), Yang Zhi (Beijing Guo’an), Wang Dalei (Shandong Luneng), Fan Yunling (Shanghai SIPG).
Defenders: Feng Xiaoting, Zhang Linpeng, Mei Fang, Li Xuepeng (all Guangzhou Evergrande), Ji Xiang, Li Ang, Ren Hang (all Jiangsu Sainty), Jiang Zhipeng (Guangzhou R&F), Wang Tong (Shandong Luneng), Rao Weihui (Guizhou Renhe)
Midfielders: Zheng Zhi, Yu Hanchao, Zhao Xuri, Liao Lisheng (all Guangzhou Evergrande), Liu Jianye, Sun Ke, Wu Xi (all Jiangsu Sainty) Cai Huikang, Wu Lei (both Shanghai SIPG), Hao Junmin, Liu Binbin (both Shandon Luneng), Yu Hai (Guizhou Renhe), Zhang Chengdong (Beijing Guo’an)
Forwards: Gao Lin, Yang Chaosheng (both Guangzhou Evergrande), Yang Xu (Shandong Luneng)
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