China’s East Asia Cup ended in disappointing fashion as a woeful second half display saw them stumble to a draw against North Korea in a game they were fortunate not to lose. A Wei Shihao goal, created by excellent work from Zhang Wenzhao, meant Marcello Lippi’s men had the advantage at the end of a keenly contested first half, but the match was largely one-way traffic following the interval and China have a combination of goalkeeper Wang Dalei and some wasteful North Korean finishing to thank for escaping this match with a draw.
The result means China place third in this year’s regional tournament, one point above this afternoon’s opponents, but it’s the first time that the world’s most populous nation has failed to pick up a win at the East Asia Cup having managed at least one victory in the six previous editions. And, despite showing promise in the second half of the 2-2 draw against South Korea and throughout their unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Japan, clinging on to a point against the underdog North Koreans means this tournament can only be considered a failure for Lippi’s experimental side.
EAST ASIA CUP
North Korea 1
Jong Il-gwan 81
Wei Shihao 28
China started brightly enough, and thought they’d gone ahead just five minutes in when North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk parried Zhao Xuri’s long range effort into Yu Dabao’s path. The Beijing Guo’an forward looked as though he had netted his third of the tournament, but his cool finish was deemed invalid as he’d been just a little too slow to return from an offside position having tested Ri from close range moments earlier.
That was as good as things got for China in the opening 25 minutes as their unfancied opponents racked up a string of chances which would have seen them take the lead on a different day. On the 15 minute mark there was panic as Wang Dalei’s errant punch went straight to the opposition and only a last ditch Zhao Xuri tackle stopped North Korea turning the ball into an empty net. 5 minutes later, Wang partially atoned when he got down well to stop An Byong-jun’s header, although replays showed it wouldn’t have found the net anyway.
Seeing his side on the back foot, Lippi opted to change from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 formation with Wu Xi replacing left-wing back Fu Huan who had been struggling on the opposite side of the field to where he usually plays. Wu’s edition bolstered the midfield and gave China a short term boost that had materialised into a goal within three minutes of the change.
The strike came on the counter when the impressive Zhang Wenzhao was sprung by Wu inside his own half and raced towards the opposition penalty area. After successfully riding a tackle, he squared the ball to youngster Wei Shihao who made no mistake from close range to fire home his second goal of the tournament.
China had certainly improved since Wu’s introduction, but North Korea were far from on the back foot and they had their best chance of the half when Jong Il-gwan’s shot ricocheted off of Liu Yiming and looped on to the head of the wide open An Byong-jun. It seemed as though the Japan based forward was surprised to find himself onside in so much space and he proceeded to head the ball wide despite having all the time in the world to pick his spot.
The last 10 minutes of the first half were competitive, but it was a different story in the second period where North Korea were dominant and looked to be the far superior side. Just three minutes after the restart, Ri Yong-jik’s long range effort took the tiniest of deflections from He Guan to flash past Wang Dalei’s post and that set the tone for a busy a 45 minutes for the Shandong Luneng goalkeeper. Wang was called into action to make several stops as the second half wore on and the uninitiated would surely have answered incorrectly if asked which team they thought was ranked 60th in the world by FIFA and which was 114th.
There was an air of inevitablity that North Korea were going to find an equaliser, and it came on 81 minutes thanks to Jong Il-gwan’s free kick. The Swiss Super League footballer’s effort was hardly a rocket, but Wang attempted to pre-empt its trajectory and wrong-footed himself.
Far from galvanising China into action, North Korea’s successful strike simply boosted their confidence and they may have gone on to win the game had Wang not kept out Ri Un-chol’s long range piledriver and Jong hadn’t headed wide late on.
All in all, the result and performance were a massive anti-climax to what had been a tournament offering shoots of optimism.
Check back soon for tournament player ratings and analysis of future prospects.
Picture courtesy of OSports
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