Sports / Soccer

China bows out at Asian Cup, but not without fight

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-01-23 10:56

MELBOURNE - China's Asian Cup campaign may have come to an abrupt end on Thursday night following a 2-0 loss to Australia, but Alain Perrin's side will undoubtedly leave the country better for the experience.

Having been drawn into a difficult group consisting of Asian's No.4-ranked side, Uzbekistan, and three-time champions Saudi Arabia, there was a feeling that a young Chinese squad would have their hands full in progressing through the first stage of the competition.

However, a revitalized team consisting entirely of domestic- based players made their intentions clear from the outset with a spirited and deserving victory over Saudi Arabia in their opening group match.

Wang Dalei saved a penalty, while Yu Hai struck a late winner as China got off to the perfect start.

Even still, a highly rated Uzbekistan team represented the biggest threat within Group B and was next on the agenda for China. But, they soon joined Saudi Arabia as China's newest victims.

Although Odil Ahmedov gave Uzbekistan the lead early in the first half, China fought back and scored twice in 14 second-half minutes through Wu Xi and Sun Ke to again triumph.

This, in particular, was a highlight of the tournament for China and a match that could prove a defining moment in the Perrin era.

Despite the squad having an average age of just 25.39 years and averaging just over 26 caps between them, the ability to recover from the first-half deficit against one of Asia's strongest sides will provide a benchmark for future years.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea would provide a stern defensive test in China's last outing throughout the group stages, but a first-half double from Sun had effectively sealed the result before their opposition could grind their way back into the match.

Against Australia in the quarter finals, only two moments of sheer quality from Tim Cahill was enough to separate the two sides.

Sun, in particular, was a standout in the tournament, notching three goals from four matches. He, along with 23-year-old Wu Lei, are the shining lights of Chinese football moving forward.

Together, they could become the fulcrum of Perrin's future vision, which he will certainly hope includes an appearance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

China has only qualified for one World Cup in the last 76 years, failing to win a point throughout their 2002 campaign.

Although the Chinese Super League is growing in size, stature and strength, the likes of Sun and Wu undoubtedly have the talent to test themselves at a higher level within Europe.

Playing in these competitions and joining established Asian players, such as Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Son Heung-Min (Bayer Leverkusen) in Europe, could greatly benefit Chinese football and enhance the team's chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Only one of Perrin's last 50 call-ups is based overseas, that being Wolfsburg midfielder Zhang Xizhe, who has just 10 senior international caps.

Even so, Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande, which is home to eight players within China's 23-man Asian Cup squad, is consistently competing in the latter stages of the Asian Champions League, having made the quarter finals in 2014 and won the competition for the first time in 2013.

Therefore the quality is proven and the future is bright for Chinese football, which may again prove the surprising factor of a major international tournament in three years time.

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