China warmed up for Tuesday’s crunch clash with Hong Kong by demolishing Bhutan in Changsha. Yang Xu scored four first half goals, while Yu Hanchao and second half substitute Wang Yongpo both scored a brace. Mei Fang opened the scoring with his first ever international goal, Zhang Xizhe struck China’s last, Yu Dabao got on the score sheet and Bhutan goalkeeper Hari Gurung was guilty of conceding an own goal when he let Wu Xi’s cross squirm out of his grasp and into the net.
2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone, Second Round, Group C
Mei Fang 10′
Yang Xu 13′,22′(pen),38′,53′
Yu Dabao 16′
Yu Hanchao 35′,73′
Wang Yongpo 66′,82′
Zhang Xizhe 89′
With Bhutan being ranked among the worst teams in the world until recently and having previously been so bad that they made international headlines by beating Sri Lanka back in March, the result of this game was never in doubt. The question was always going to be whether China could top the six goals they put past the Bhutanese in Thimpu three months ago and whether they could get close to the fifteen goals racked up by Qatar in September.
China almost got off to the perfect start on the Helong Stadium’s rain sodden pitch when the impressive Yu Hanchao latched on to Yang Xu’s chipped pass within the first 20 seconds, only to be denied by Gurung from close range. The way in which Bhutan winger Biren Basnet haplessly swiped at Yang’s chip was ominous for the visitors and, after off target efforts from Wu Xi and Yang Xu, China were a goal up in the 10th minute.
The goal came from a corner which the undersized Gurung was only able to push into body of a jumping Mei Fang. The ball then dropped at the feet of the Guangzhou Evergrande centre back who only had to toe poke into an empty net from a yard out to open his international account.
It was already clear by this point that the diminutive Bhutanese players struggled to cope with crosses, and China sought to exploit that by trying to get the ball into the box from wide areas as often as they could. Just three minutes after Mei’s opener, Yu Hanchao crossed from the left to Yu Dabao whose saved effort was pounced upon by Yang Xu to double China’s tally.
Not long after, another cross from Yu Hanchao to Yu Dabao saw the Beijing Guo’an man find the net himself with an unmarked header that is his eighth international goal in 2015. Yang Xu added a fourth from the penalty spot midway through the first half after left back Zou Zheng was tripped by Basnet during one of the many surging runs he made during the evening.
Zou also set up Yang’s third and China’s sixth when he crossed for the Shandong Luneng striker who scored not long after Yu Hanchao had also found the net by capitalising on a defensive error from centre back Jigme Dorji. Shortly after Yang had completed his 38 minute hat-trick, China were 7-0 up when Gurung became a victim of the wet conditions and spilled Wu Xi’s looped cross into his own net under pressure from Yu Dabao. Several media outlets have incorrectly attributed the goal to Yu, but he never actually touched the ball as he challenged Bhutan’s 23-year-old shot stopper.
That would prove to be the Beijing Guo’an attacker’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Huang Bowen five minutes before half-time to the approval of those in attendance. It was the Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder’s first appearance for China since March of 2014 and he was soon joined by Beijing Guo’an winger Zhang Xizhe who was introduced at the beginning of the second half to an end an international absence as long as Huang’s.
Yang Xu scored his fourth eight minutes into the second half after another Zou Zheng cross and then set up Shandong Luneng teammate Wang Yongpo with a knock down in the 66th minute. Wang had only been on the field for six minutes at that point after replacing Wu Xi, and he was also instrumental in China’s next goal by playing a fine one-two with Yu Hanchao who rifled home what was China’s best strike of the game in the 73rd minute.
With a 10-0 lead, a little complacency was always likely to creep in and, a couple of minutes after Yu’s goal, Mei Fang was caught out of position which allowed Bhutan’s 19-year-old Thailand based striker Chencho Gyeltsen to burst forward with the ball. Gyeltsen showed why he is Bhutan’s most highly rated player by slaloming between Ren Hang and Zhang Chengdong before forcing a close range save from a previously hibernating Wang Dalei. Within a minute, Bhutan were on the attack again when Cai Huikang couldn’t keep possession following a poor Wang Yongpo pass, but a sloppy final ball saw the visitors’ last real opportunity for a consolation evaporate.
The final 10 minute afforded China the opportunity to run up the score with Wang Yongpo striking a low 20-yard effort following a lay-off from Zhang Xizhe, and the Guo’an winger himself finding the net a minute from time when Huang Bowen’s partially cleared cross fell to him in a favourable position.
Of course, knocking twelve goals past a team of amateurs who are mostly in their teens and early twenties doesn’t mean that much, but there are some positives to take from this game. Long time absentees Huang Bowen and Zhang Xizhe both performed fine in their return to the international fold and the former was even given the captain’s armband after Wu Xi was subbed off on the hour mark.
Wu was captaining the national team for the first time as a stand-in for the rested Zheng Zhi and didn’t have the best of games, but it’s still a significant step up for the Jiangsu Sainty midfielder who has recently been the subject of transfer speculation suggesting that Guangzhou Evergrande see him as Zheng’s long term replacement at club level.
Apart from Gyeltsen’s brief foray forward, there was little for the defence to do and Wang Dalei was so bored that he came running 40-yards out of his goal just so that he could have his first touch of the game after 27 minutes. Bhutan’s match against Qatar demonstrated their absolute inability to deal with overlapping full backs and left back Zou Zheng took full advantage of that to produce a fine attacking display that did little to dispel doubts over his defensive abilities. Worryingly, right back Zhang Chengdong looked increasingly anonymous as the game went on and he seems to be suffering from not playing a single minute of competitive club football since moving to Rayo Vallecano in August.
In attack, Yang Xu once again harnessed his reputation as a flat track bully who is prolific against undersized or weaker teams. The Shandong Luneng striker’s quartet of goals brings his international total to 21 in 42 games, which makes him joint fifth on China’s all time list and takes him above Gao Lin as number one among active players. Amazingly, though, one third of those goals have come against Bhutan, and eleven have come from just four games against Bhutan and Laos. Throw in strikes against the likes of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and it’s clear that Yang thrives against smaller teams, but hasn’t done it enough against the big boys.
Having been rested following Saturday’s AFC Champions’ League final first leg against Al-Ahli in Dubai, we will probably see Zheng Zhi and Zhang Linpeng return for Tuesday’s clash against second placed Hong Kong. Indeed, China will need to be at full strength in that game as the Special Administrative Region’s 1-0 win in the Maldives tonight (see video) means they can knock China out should they defeat them at the tiny Mong Kok Stadium.
Brazilian born Paulinho won and scored a first half penalty in his first competitive game for Hong Kong since being awarded citizenship. A truly horrendous miss from fellow Brazilian born competitive debutante Sandro denied Hong Kong the chance to add to their lead in the second half, but the real thing of note here is another clean sheet.
Jean-Jaqcues Kilama’s early goal line clearance denied the Maldives their best opportunity to find the net and means that Hong Kong have now kept their opponents goalless in five of their six qualifiers. China are three points behind Hong Kong with a game in hand (table here) and obviously have to score to claim the win they need in order to keep their qualifyication hopes afloat.
Despite having numerous efforts on goal, the Chinese didn’t manage that last time and will need to ride the momentum of tonight’s massive victory into Tuesday’s must-win clash.
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