For over an hour on Thursday, it looked like China was headed for yet another embarrassing defeat, creating few chances and being dominated by Korea, but two late goals changed all the story lines.
With a large contingent of Chinese fans in the stands and a ton of buildup going into the match, fans could be forgiven for holding out a small amount of hope for a surprise result, but Korea followed up a Zheng Zhi first half own goal with two quick goals shortly after the hour mark to give them a daunting 3-0 lead. Despite China having created few chances all night, they were able to break through and score twice in four minutes to make it 3-2 and show a bit of pluck and fight that hasn’t existed in the national team since…the last time Gao Hongbo was in charge.
China was expected to lose, so the loss was no surprise, but the scoreline covered up the weak play for much of the match and called for a different story line. The turn around should also mean China’s upped its level of confidence as it prepares to face Iran tonight in Shenyang.
That said, Iran topped off an unimpressive home match against a Qatar team playing anti-football with two extra time goals to make up for it, certainly a confidence boost for them as well. In a 10 match competition, China will be in serious trouble if 20% of the way through, they are still on zero points. While Iran is one of the strongest teams in the group, a home match like this is a needed opportunity to earn some points. A win and they have a cushion for mistakes, a draw and at least they have a point.
While everyone expected China to lose against Korea, this match is a little different, especially after the high of the final 20 minutes in Seoul. Despite wishing to see them come away with all three points, a distinct possibility if Iran struggles like they did at home (and with a long trip to northeastern China), a draw is a more likely result.