China keep tired Brazil at bay
Kelvin Wong in Guangzhou
Chinese fans left the Olympic Stadium in Guangzhou with mixed feelings last night after China held world champions Brazil to a goalless draw in a lacklustre exhibition match. The result was a boost to a mainland team trying to bounce back from a disappointing World Cup finals last year - and a solid start for new coach Arie Haan as he tries to establish his credentials.
'Getting a draw with Brazil is just a remarkable result and I'm very happy with our performance tonight, especially since this is the first game for China after the World Cup and we didn't really have time to prepare,' said Dutchman Haan, who took over from Bora Milutinovic in December.
But the near-60,000 crowd were let down by a Brazilian team who, despite the occasional flash of brilliance, failed to repeat the dazzling display which saw them hammer China 4-0 last June on the way to winning their fifth World Cup.
Yet coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, back in charge of Brazil for a second time after taking over from World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, expressed satisfaction with his players' performance, citing fatigue and the long travelling distance as reasons for their less-than-buoyant display.
'We have travelled an extremely long distance to get here from Brazil and, in the case of some players, from Europe. I can understand how tired they are after such a long season with their clubs,' said Parreira. 'On the other hand, it was a good performance and good result for China and I am happy for them.'
Parreira, who guided Brazil to their fourth World Cup triumph in 1994, added: 'Our defence looked very solid tonight, even though up front our penetration and passing were not as good or as sharp as they normally are.'
Brazil, led by their 'Three Rs' strike force of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, failed to punish a Chinese backline missing Fan Zhiyi, who decided to stay with his Welsh club Cardiff City, with his place being taken by Chinese Footballer of the Year Zhen Zhi.
The world champions created the first real chance of the game in the 13th minute when Ronaldo was inches short of meeting an inswinging cross from Rivaldo at the far post.
The Brazilian striking duo, who netted 13 goals between them at last year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea, rarely utilised the space afforded them by Zhen and Li Weifeng at the centre of China's defence.
Everton midfielder Li Tie and Manchester City fullback Sun Jihai, the only two overseas-based players in China's starting line-up, showed the crowd what they had learned from half a season in the Premier League. Li held his own ground against the likes of Kleberson and Gilberto Silva and provided a much-needed link between the attack and the defence.
But it was Sun who emerged as the home team's most outstanding player with his display in an unfamiliar position on the left side of midfield.
Sun was a constant threat to Brazil skipper Cafu, especially in the first half when he twice got to the byline and sent over well-placed crosses for his teammates. But China's poor finishing, a failing which saw them exit the World Cup finals without a goal in three games, continued as first Xu Yunlong and then Li Yi failed to capitalise on Sun's work.
Haan refused to single out any one player for praise, saying: 'Football is a team game and I really can't say who our best player was. I can only tell you that it was a great performance from our team.'
Parreira substituted Ronaldo with Amoroso at half-time and, ironically, the move seemed to rejuvenate the Brazilians. The Borussia Dortmund striker went close to opening the scoring 10 minutes after the break when he latched on to a Ronaldinho pass and flicked the ball past the advancing Liu, only for Zhen to clear off the line.
China: Liu Yunfei; Zhen Zhi, Li Weifeng, Wei Xin, Yang Pu; Li Xiaopeng (Xu Yunlong 24th), Zhao Junzhe, Sun Jihai (Yu Genwei 80), Li Tie, Qi Hong (Li Jinyu 60); Li Yi (Yang Cheng 60).
Brazil: Dida; Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ze Roberto (Emerson 70), Luis Anderson; Kleberson (Roque Junior 70), Gilberto Silva, Anderson Polga; Ronaldinho (Denilson 60), Rivaldo, Ronaldo (Amoroso 45).