Football Sport

China eyes Asian Cup redemption

Written by Ben Blaschke

Could this be the moment China finally arrive on the world footballing stage? Long talked about as Asia’s “sleeping giant” but without the results to match, China took a giant step towards fulfilling their immense potential last night when they stunned Saudi Arabia 1-0 in their opening match of the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

Hai Yu’s deflected free kick with 10 minutes remaining was enough to see off the three-time Asian Cup champions and give the Chinese a great chance of progressing past the group stage for the first time since they reached the final on home soil in 2004. Needless to say, it’s been a long time between drinks for China following failed campaigns in 2007 and 2011 – not to mention the fact that they barely scraped through qualification for this year’s tournament as the best third-ranked team from the qualifying groups.

Nevertheless, all of that will be forgotten if they can reach the quarter finals and beyond in Australia. Their chances certainly weren’t harmed by a favorable draw that saw them manage to avoid all of the so-called “big guns” – Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia – when the four groups were announced but an opening game clash with a Saudi Arabian side that has reached the final six times in its past eight attempts was still a daunting task.

Now, having watched Uzbekistan beat North Korea 1-0 in last night’s other Group B clash, China are just one more good performance away from the quarter-finals. The good news for China’s huge legion of fans is that last night’s win doesn’t appear to be a fluke, with a series of promising results in the lad-up including a 3-0 win over Thailand and a 2-1 win over Paraguay.

Also working in China’s favor is the fact that they have seven players in their squad from Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande. That level of cohesion is something money can’t buy. And they boast a good mix of youth and experience with veteran midfielder Zheng Zhi making his mark alongside rising star Wu Lei who has already been courted by a number of big European clubs.

In the meantime, China can now look forward to its next game against Uzbekistan on Wednesday knowing another win would be enough to send them through, or if that fails their final group game against North Korea next Sunday will likely serve as a second chance to progress. And given their troubles on the world stage over the past decade, what a huge boost that would be.