Team China experiment offers little hope

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, July 22, 2022
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Na Sang Ho (1st L) of South Korea competes during the 2022 EAFF (East Asian Football Federation) E-1 Football Championship men's match between China and South Korea at Toyota Stadium in Toyota City in Aichi prefecture, Japan, July 20, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu)

Team China's defeat to South Korea on Wednesday came as no surprise. The manner of the loss, however, has only deepened fans' concerns that the gap between the national team and Asia's top sides is growing.

An inexperienced Team China side, composed mostly of players plucked from Aleksandar Jankovic's under-23 squad, lost its opening match of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship 3-0 in Aichi, Japan on Wednesday.

That scoreline somewhat flattered China, and digging deeper into the match stats reveals the extent of South Korea's dominance.

China was on the back foot from the off, conceding 10 fouls by the 36th minute compared to its opponent's three.

South Korea made constant pressure count in the 40th minute when defender Zhu Chenjie netted an own goal. By halftime, China had managed only 26 percent possession and had failed to register a shot on goal.

Kwon Chang-hoon extended the lead in the 54th minute, before Cho Gue-sung completed the scoring in the 80th minute.

"When you play against such a good team, all the errors are very expensive. Especially at the end of the first half, South Korea dominated and we knew it was going to be like this. We relied on our defensive system, and the unlucky goal had a very big impact on our young players for the second half," said Team China coach Jankovic.

"We will use this match to improve the tactical organization. Also, through this experience, we will be calmer when we play against Japan."

The bulk of Team China's regular first-team starters did not make the trip to Japan, allowing Jankovic to experiment with under-23 players at the East Asian championship.

Jankovic defended the youngsters, saying they had not played any international tournaments for about three years, and claimed that taking on stronger rivals like South Korea and Japan will help the players develop.

However, for Chinese soccer fans starved of results to cheer in recent years, watching an inexperienced team that looked out of its depth labor to yet another chastening loss was difficult to accept.

Just as they did during China's disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign, fans took to social media to vent their frustrations, with the hashtag "Team China 0-3 South Korea" viewed over 94 million times in just 12 hours.

"There's nothing to cheer considering Team China's performance. Although this Chinese team mainly comprises young players, South Korea also did not send their top players, who are playing in foreign leagues," sports commentator Han Qiaosheng wrote on Weibo.

"It's unbelievable that Team China had zero shots on goal in the first half, and even had an own goal. This is truly unacceptable for the fans. We cannot see any change in the Chinese men's soccer team, and I hardly see any hope."

Team China's attacking deficiencies clearly rankled fans once more, but many pundits attributed the miserable performance to a glaring lack of quality, as opposed to tactics.

"Team China looked like it wanted to organize more attacks and be more aggressive, but the South Korean team had a stranglehold on possession for the entire match, which forced China to play with five or more defenders," read a commentary from Titan Sports' Ma Dexing.

"Considering the level of the experimental team, it's not realistic to expect them to win against strong rivals. The most ideal situation for them is to pack the defense and try to finish the next match 0-0.

"It was very clear on the pitch that it was hard for Team China to even complete three passes in a row. South Korea did not even play at 100 percent, but still did a great job of passing and organizing. There's an obvious gap."

Team China will next face Japan on Sunday before taking on Hong Kong, China next Wednesday. While contending for the EAFF E-1 title is clearly beyond Team China's reach, many observers hope the young players don't let their heads drop and try to learn from the experience.

Former Team China international Fan Zhiyi also insisted it was not all doom and gloom, pointing to the potential shown by central defender Zhu Chenjie, who is captaining the side in Japan.

"Actually Zhu Chenjie has been a pretty stable defender and a talent for Team China. So the challenge now is for him and the team to digest and move on from this match," said Fan.

"We have to cut the young Chinese players some slack and allow them to make mistakes. Sometimes we need to be tolerant and patient. If we don't allow them to make mistakes, we will not see great goals on the pitch."

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