Yu Dabao was once again the hero against South Korea as his late header rescued a draw for China in the opening game of the 2017 East Asia Cup. A young Chinese team, featuring six players born in or after 1995, was able to survive a difficult first half at just 2-1 down and give Yu the platform to score his second goal against the Taegeuk Warriors this year, following on from his winner in March’s World Cup qualifying game.
In fact, it was one of China’s youngsters, Shanghai SIPG’s Wei Shihao, who started the scoring after just 8 minutes, but that opened the floodgates for a first half Korean onslaught which some how only managed to produce two goals – struck by Kim Shin-wook and Lee Jae-sung.
EAST ASIA CUP
South Korea 2
Kim Shin-wook 12
Lee Jae-sung 19
Wei Shihao 9
Yu Dabao 76
However, with veterans Zhao Xuri, Yu Dabao and Wu Xi giving the only real international experience to a team whose other eight outfield players had just 24 caps between them, Marcello Lippi’s men can be proud of earning a draw with Korean side which looked vastly superior on paper.
China came out of the blocks with the kind of exuberance you might expect of a team featuring so many youngsters and had their opponents on the back foot in the opening exchanges. Lippi’s men were pressed high up the field and displayed an intensity usually associated with their more highly rated opponents. And the approach soon paid dividends when a cross slipped behind intended target Yu Dabao and into the path of Wei Shihao who dispatched with a cool, low finish from just inside the penalty area.
That was as good as things got in the first half for China, though, as Wei’s strike seemed to awaken the Taeguk Warriors. Kim Shin-wook almost fired in an equaliser in an attack launched straight from the kick-off and made amends for the miss just a minute later by levelling things up from close range. The goal was set-up following some excellent link up play between the scorer, Lee Jae-sung and Lee Myung-joo which bamboozled Chinese defenders Gao Zhunyi and Zheng Zheng.
With the stuffing knocked out of Team Dragon, it didn’t take long for South Korea to pile on the misery and it was again Kim Shin-wook and Lee Jae-sung who were involved. As he had done to start the previous move, Kim used his superior size to knock a high ball down for Lee who had made a clever run which he punctuated with an excellent finish.
Going ahead encouraged the Koreans to push on more, and the remainder of the first half was entirely one way traffic. Left-back Kim Jin-su and Lee Jae-sung both went close before Yan Junling had to make two point blank saves as the first half came to a close. He may not have known much about the first one which was fired straight at him by Lee Myung-joo after a goalmouth scramble, but the second save, where he raced across goal to keep out Yeom Ki-hun’s header with a flailing arm was a fine piece of goalkeeping.
With China extremely fortunate to still just be a goal down at the interval, it wasn’t a surprise to see Lippi make a half-time change. The alteration saw goalscorer Wei Shihao make way for Li Xuepeng who went to left-wing back as China shifted from their 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2. Zheng Zheng moving inside meant the inexperienced centre back duo of Gao Zhunyi got some extra help and also gave China more width with young right-back Deng Hanwen having the freedom to push forward and cause his opponents problems.
This gave China more defensive stability and meant they generally appeared less ragged in other areas of the field. A team that had looked badly overmatched for the majority of the first half began to be competitive again and what had appeared to be a cakewalk for the Koreans changed into a competitive contest.
That’s not to say China had things all their own way in the second half and Shin Tae-yong’s men twice went close around the hour mark. First when dangerous left-back Kim Jin-su forced another fine save from Yan Junling with a long range effort, and then when Kim Shin-wook’s volley flashed just over the bar. That last scare seemed to push China on, and shortly after they had their best chance since Wei Shihao’s opener when Deng Hanwen crossed in to Zhao Xuri who failed to connect cleanly from close range, allowing Kim Jin-hyeon to keep out the strike.
With momentum seemingly shifting, Lippi made two key adjustments which helped turn the game decisively in China’s favour. The fielding of targetman Xiao Zhi in place of 20-year-old Yang Liyu just two minutes after Zhao’s effort seemed to galvanise hitherto anonymous striker Yu Dabao, and Yin Hongbo’s introduction in place of the disappointing Wu Xi added an extra energy to China’s midfield. Indeed, within four minutes of coming on, Yin had linked up with Li Xuepeng who delivered a beautiful cross straight on to the head of Yu. Just as happened in March, the Beijing Guo’an hitman made no mistake with what was his first real opportunity of the game, and beat Kim with a header which flew in off the post.
With a lively final 15 minutes failing to produce a goal for either side, China were able to claim a point that they didn’t exaclty deserve, but certainly earned through a resolute second half display. Among the youngsters, Wei Shihao will certainly grab the headlines for his well taken strike, but he largely disappeared after that, and it was Beijing Renhe’s Deng Hanwen who really shone when the chips were down in the second half.
Changchun Yatai’s midfielder He Chao didn’t exactly put on a convincing display, but may have done enough for further consideration, while the youngest of the bunch, Yang Liyu definitely needs more experience before being a genuine contender for regular national team minutes.
In the defence, Hebei CFFC’s Gao Zhunyi had a really hard time of things in the first half, and centre back partner Liu Yiming came out of the 90 minutes looking like a believable long term option, although there’s still work to do.
Meanwhile, of the veteran trio which started the match, it was Zhao Xuri who did the most to justify the decision to bring him to Japan, while Wu Xi had a pretty lackluster afternoon. Yu Dabao’s goal obviously trumps any other concerns, but his display prior to finding the net was largely underwhelming.
Zhang Linpeng should be fit by the time China face Japan in the second game on Tuesday evening and the performances of substitutes Li Xuepeng, Xiao Zhi and Ying Hongbo may tempt Lippi into going with an older and more experienced side against the hosts. However, he opts to approach things, though, a display with as much fight as China showed in the second half today will give them a chance of making it a difficult evening for the Samurai Blue.
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