A fine first half free kick from Liao Lisheng counted for nothing as China’s under-23s endured an emphatic second half collapse on their way to a 3-1 defeat to hosts Qatar in their Asian Championships opener. Liao ensured China were rewarded for a strong first half performance when he deftly lifted a free kick up and over the wall two minutes before the interval, but Qatar scored three times in 17 second half minutes as Fu Bo’s side fell apart.
AFC Under-23 Asian Championships Group A
Hassan 65′, 72′
Liao Lisheng 43′
Captain Abdelkarim Hassan headed in the equaliser from a corner in the 65th minute and then added a second with a thunderbolt of a strike less than ten minutes later. 80th minute substitute Ahmed Alaaedin then sealed the win less than two minutes after coming on when he tapped into an empty net at the end of a rapid counterattack.
To add to China’s misery, midfielder Xu Xin was shown a red card for kicking out at Akram Afif in stoppage time. The recent Guangzhou Evergrande signing‘s petulance summed up China’s second half self destruction in a game that had started out so promisingly.
Although Almoez Ali struck a post in the 20th minute following a penalty area scramble, China just about had the better of the opening 45 minutes and Wu Xinghan actually had the ball in the net around the half hour mark, only to see his goal correctly ruled out for a marginal offside.
Wu’s chance had been set up by a neat flick from centre forward Zhang Yuning who impressed in the first half before fading with his teammates in the second period. At 19, the Vitesse Arnhem player is the youngest member of China’s squad, but he impressed with his strength and link up play in the lone striker role.
Liao’s free kick opportunity came when Asem Madibo blocked Xu Xin’s long range shot with his hand and the Evergrande midfielder made no mistake with his third long range effort of the match having earlier fired another two off target.
After the game, China’s manager Fu Bo said “It is a pity we lost the match because we played well in the first half but in the second half, after our opponents scored , we then had some problems,” Aside from “we then had some problems” being a significant understatement, Fu was also wrong to say that China’s difficulties only arrived after Qatar scored.
In fact, Felix Sanchez’s team had shown improvement from the beginning of the second half thanks in large part to the introduction of full international Ali Assadalla. The creative midfielder replaced ineffective striker Mohammed Muntari and this took the initiative away from China’s triumvirate of Evergrande midfielders Xu Xin, Liao Lisheng and Li Yuanyi who had the better of things in the first half.
Qatar were no longer resorting to pumping forward long diagonals and, although they held firm for a while, the increasing pressure on China’s defense really began to show as the game moved into its final 30 minutes. Just after the hour mark, a Hassan cross caused chaos in the Chinese penalty area which was only stymied when a sliding Wang Tong blocked Assadalla’s goal bound effort.
Next it was the turn of temperamental centre back Ahmed Yasser to cause panic in the Chinese box as his cross beat goalkeeper Du Jia and the defense, only for both Fahad Ali Shanin and Almoez Ali to fail to get the slight touch needed to divert the ball into the empty net. Things were now looking ominous for Fu Bo’s men, and the equaliser came just minutes later when Zhang Yuning’s slack marking gave Hassan a free header from Assadalla’s corner.
There was nothing free about the left-back’s second, though, as he capped a fantastic second half display by firing a 25-yard rocket past Du Jia after playing a neat one-two with Assadalla. It was a fine strike, but the failure of China’s midfield or centre backs to get near Hassan and Assadalla suggested they were tiring badly and, despite making three changes between the second and third goal, Qatar’s final strike confirmed the East Asians’ exhaustion.
With less than 10 minutes to go, China sent most of the team up for a corner, only to see Qatar turn it into a goal of their own within seconds. Akram Arif picked up a clearance and his quick pass and turn left the flat footed Wang Tong in no man’s land and poor old Chen Zhechao, who had been on the pitch for less than two minutes, facing four Qatar attackers by himself. One pass from Assadalla later, and Arif was slipping in Alaaedin who had nothing to do but push the ball into the empty net.
Xu’s sending off added insult to injury and Fu has a lot to think about before the game against Syria on Friday. In pre-match interviews the 50-year-old may have said that out of the 23-man squad “any eleven players is our best starting line-up”, but the reality is, that with two exceptions, this is Fu’s preferred first eleven, as we highlighted in our tournament preview.
The only absentees were suspended midfielder Feng Gang, who was replaced by Li Yuanyi, and star winger Liu Binbin who only made a late and ineffective substitute appearance after suffering from a cold all week. It is very possible that both Feng and Liu will start against Syria and the latter will be looking to take advantage of a suspect defense which fell to a 2-0 defeat to Iran earlier in the day.
After struggling to get going in the first half, Amir Motahari and Milad Mohammadi grabbed second half strikes for the Iranians who could have won by more. Motahari’s opener was a fine solo effort and he, Mohammadi and Mehdi Torabi ran riot on the Syrians in the second half. This game made a mockery of our preview’s suggestion that Iran could be the weakest team in this group and China should have enough to break down Syria’s vulnerable back line which is flanked by a goalkeeper, Abdul Latif Hassan, who simply can’t hold on to crosses.
Syrian forward Nasouh Al Nakdali may have had a pretty poor game, but his strike partner Omar Kharbin showed enough to suggest that he will pose a threat to the Chinese back line. Whoever comes in to replace the suspended Xu Xin as the holding midfielder will, along with the defense, have to perform for the whole 90 minutes this time in order to keep Kharbin quiet.
If they can’t, and the attack fails to make the inroads it should, a Chinese team packed with Super League regulars faces the prospect of elimination after just two games. China don’t need to secure the top three finish which will give them Olympic qualification in order for this tournament to be a success, but defeat to Syria on the back of this second half performance against Qatar will make it an unquestionable failure.
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