China won their final pre-Asian Cup warm up match 4-1 over Oman in a low key game. The contest was brought forward two days from its originally scheduled date of January 5th and was played in the fashion of a glorified kick around rather than a first class international friendly. The game was played behind closed doors and, confusingly, the Chinese players wore the shirts of their teammates in order to deter would be spies from learning too much about them.
Hao Junmin 43′
Yu Hai 44′
Wu Lei 65′
Yang Xu 78′
Alain Perrin’s men controlled most of the game, but found themselves 1-0 down after twelve minutes when centre back Zhang Linpeng mis-controlled a routine ball and allowed Omani winger Mohammad Al-Siyabi to dispossess him and bend a ruthless effort over Wang Dalei from 20 yards out. That lead lasted until the 43rd minute when right back Ji Xiang squared to Hao Junmin who was in acres of space in the box and made no mistake with a clinical finish from 16 yards. Just a minute later, Hao surged into the box and cut the ball back to Yu Hai who netted from close range.
Guozu continued to have the better of the second half and were rewarded after 65 minutes when Wu Lei pounced on a parried shot to double his side’s advantage. Yang Xu iced the cake in the 78th minute thanks to good work from Yu Hanchao who pickpocketed a dawdling defender before racing into the penalty area and slipping the ball to the Shandong Luneng forward for a relatively simple finish.
In theory, Oman ought to have provided a tougher test than recent friendly opponents Kyrgyzstan and Palestine, but the passive nature of the game and the Middle Easterners’ lacklustre defending mean that it would be foolish to read too much into the result. The Omani’s are actually ranked four places above China in the FIFA World Rankings, but Head Coach Paul Le Guen’s recent assertion that his side “…are not just going to make up the numbers in Australia” looks overly optimistic based on this performance.
That being said, there are some positives China can take from this outing. It marks a tenth straight game unbeaten (if unofficial games are included) for Perrin’s men and four different players were able to show the sort of composure in front of goal that has been generally lacking in recent performances. It will also provide a valuable confidence boost to get such a comprehensive victory over a Gulf nation just seven days ahead of the opening group match against fellow Arabian Peninsula dwellers Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s are a cut above Oman and the competitive nature of the game means it will be a completely different prospect to this half-hearted affair, but any psychological benefit to a side which has so often capitulated under pressure will be of great importance to the national team.
In terms of personnel, the game gave some possible insight into Perrin’s plans, but it would take a brave person to predict the entire starting eleven that will turn out against the Saudi’s in Brisbane. Wang Dalei was once again favoured over Zeng Cheng in goal which would suggest that the former Shanghai Shenhua stopper will begin the tournament between the sticks. The central defensive pairing of Ren Hang and Zhang Linpeng seems to be Perrin’s preffered option, although Zhang’s mistake in this game, coupled with duo’s infrequent appearances in the middle of defence for their clubs, makes this look like a risky choice. Jiang Zhipeng looks to have the left back spot nailed down and the other full back position will either go to Ji Xiang, who started there today, or Zhang Chengdong, who was in a more advanced role at kickoff. Zheng Zhi and Wu Xi appear to have made the holding midfield roles their own which leaves the ever rotating front four to be decided.
Today, Yu Hai spearheaded the attack with Wu Lei behind him and Hao Junmin and Zhang Chengdong to the left and right, but it is anybody’s guess what the final configuration of this attacking unit will be. Perin looks hell bent on having Wu Lei and Han Junmin in the side but in the other two slots he still has the possibility of playing Yang Xu, Gao Lin, Yu Hanchao or Sun Ke. Each of that quartet has had significant playing time in recent warm-up matches so it is difficult to rule any of them out. Yang Xu’s exclusion as the loan striker looks particularly difficult to justify considering his record of five goals in the last six internationals (including unofficial games).
Whatever Perrin decides, there is certainly the nucleus of a half decent team here and there is reason for cautious optimism that China can advance past the group stages of the Asian Cup should they be able to find the net with the kind of consistency they showed today. With just one week to go until Asian football’s premier competition kicks off, excitement is building around the continent. Be sure to check back to later in the week when we will preview the tournament and China’s prospects within it in more detail.
Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1 – listed right to left): Wang Dalei: Ji Xiang, Zhang Linpeng, Ren Hang, Jiang Zhipeng: Zheng Zhi, Wu Xi: Zhang Chengdong, Wu Lei, Hao Junmin: Yu Hai
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