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China loses hope for title to Japan
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China had their title hopes dashed in Chongqing on Wednesday as they were beaten 1-0 by Japan at the East Asian Football Championship (EAFC).

In the opening match last Sunday, the Chinese men failed to break the 30-year-no-win jinx to South Korea with the woeful result 2-3, then having lost 16 matches of their past 27 clashes since 1978.

As the defending champion of EAFC, China would keep their title hopes alive by beating Japan, which they had not had a winning record in the past 10 years.

Japan, composed of young players, labored out a 1-1 draw against DPR Korea in the first match, which made their head coach Takeshi Okada feel a lot of pressure from domestic media.

The visitors made a dream start after the match.In the 13th minute, Chinese goal keeper Zong Lei failed to punch a low cross from the left wing far away and Japanese midfielder Yamase Koji made a follow-up in time to sweep the goal into the unguarded net.

Faced with Japan's tight defence, Chinese players couldn't find the rhythm and their long-range shots and headers from a few corner opportunities could hardly pose any threats to the Japanese.

The Japanese side held the 1-0 lead to the whistle and gained their first win of the tournament to stay on top among four teams with one match remaining.

"We failed to play effective football today as we wasted a lot of good opportunities from wing crosses. Besides, our players had physical problem especially in the second half," said Chinese chief coach Ratomir Dujkovic.

"The Japanese team did a good job in their defense today and we should have scored if we could seize a chance in the first half. But we shouldn't lose confidence as the tournament is important for us to prepare for the World Cup qualifier. We will not make the same mistakes on March 26 against Australia," said Chinese head coach Vladimir Petrovic.

"Today's match is much easier than I expected. My players performed steadily and calmly to seize the final victory. But the only regret is the injury of my player," said Japan's coach Takeshi Okada.

The 52-year-old Japanese, who led Japan to their first World Cup finals in 1998, again took over the position from Ivica Osim late last year.

The biennial East Asian Football Championship, which was inaugurated in 2003, was postponed to this year to make way for last year's Asian Cup. The participating teams are DPR Korea, Japan, South Korea and China.

(Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2008)

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