Group C: China PR 2-1 Kyrgyz Republic
Al Ain: China escaped with all three points from their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 opener on Monday as Marcello Lippi’s side staged a second half rally to hand debutants Kyrgyz Republic a 2-1 defeat at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.
Akhlidin Israilov had given Alexander Krestinin’s team the lead three minutes before the break but an unfortunate own goal by Kyrgyz keeper Pavel Matiash and a fine finish from substitute Yu Dabao earned China the win in the nations’ Group C opener.
China went into the game without suspended captain Zheng Zhi, the former AFC Player of the Year, but were still heavily fancied against a team making their debut at the AFC Asian Cup.
But Kyrgyz Republic made it clear from the outset they would not be overawed, either by the opposition or the occasion, and started the game putting the Chinese defence on the back foot.
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Wu Lei’s low drive came at the end of a rare appearance in the final third of the field for the Chinese as Lippi’s side were continually frustrated, and the Italian reacted early, replacing Jin Jingdao with the more direct Yu Dabao after just 24 minutes.
That move sparked the Chinese attack into life, but only after Vitalij Lux popped the ball over Yan Junling’s crossbar after a perfectly weighted through ball from Bekzhan Sagynbaev.
Wu Xi fired just wide following a lay-off from Wu Lei before Gao Lin’s lofted, curling delivery from the left skipped away from a sliding Yu at the far post and bounced to safety.
Both teams looked set to cancel one another out as the end of the half approached, only for the Central Asian side to take the lead. Mirlan Murzaev’s headed flick found Akhlidin on the edge of the area and the midfielder volleyed home via the inside of Yan’s left post.
Any sense another upset was on the cards started to evaporate in the Al Ain sun just five minutes into the second half, however, with Matiash the unfortunate victim of a costly error.
The Kyrgyz goalkeeper looked well positioned to comfortably deal with Zhang Linpeng’s mistimed looping header, only to palm the ball into his own goal in a disastrous attempt to clear his lines.
The goal emboldened the Chinese and, 12 minutes later, Wu Xi was heading over the bar at the end of a slick move involving Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin while Wu Lei also saw his headed attempt clear the goal in the 71st minute.
With 12 minutes remaining Lippi’s team took the lead when Wu Xi’s deft header directed Liu Yang’s long ball from the back into Yu’s path and the Beijing Guoan forward was left in position to slot his shot beyond Matiash, which he did with aplomb to give China all three points.
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