China’s future star Wei Shihao scores in 2-2 draw against South Korea
The youngster makes a memorable international debut as Marcello Lippi’s youthful team hold their own against Koreans, while Japan pip North Korea with injury-time strike
Wei Shihao enhanced his burgeoning reputation as a future star of Chinese football on Saturday evening, claiming his first international goal on his debut for Marcello Lippi’s side as a youthful China drew 2-2 with South Korea in the opening game of the East Asian Championship in Tokyo.
The Shanghai SIPG striker, one of six players aged 22 or younger in the starting line-up, put China in front just nine minutes into the game before the defence succumbed to the aerial prowess of towering Korean striker Kim Shin-wook.
Kim scored one and set up the second for Lee Jae-sung in the opening 45 minutes as Shin Tae-yong’s side came back from Wei’s early goal, only for Beijing Guoan’s Yu Dabao to mark his return to the China team with the equaliser 14 minutes from time.
“These six young players took a month’s vacation after the Chinese Super League season and before coming to Japan for this championship and they performed well,” said Lippi.
“They showed us their strength during the match today, even though they are young. That’s their characteristics. In January we have the Asian Under 23 Championships and I expect they will play well in that.
“I think only the Chinese people consider 22 years old young, for me young is 18. Their quality is very high and that’s why I wanted to use them. They will play in international games again next year and I wanted them to accumulate experience here. I see them as mature adults in terms of age.”
Wei was withdrawn at half-time by Lippi as the Italian made a tactical readjustment to stifle the Korean attack, but not before making his mark in attack for China as he swept the ball home from inside the area, scoring with an assured strike to give his team the lead.
Kim’s height, however, caused the Chinese defence difficulties, the Ulsan Hyundai striker levelling the scores three minutes later before nodding the ball into the path of Lee Jae-sung as Korea took the lead in the 19th minute.
Lippi’s team, featuring 22-year-olds Liu Yiming, Gao Zhunyi, Deng Hanwen, He Chao and Wei as well as a 20-year-old Yang Liyu, were rattled by the Korean response and it was goalkeeper Yan Junling who was the standout for China.
On several occasions the Shanghai SIPG stopper’s agility denied the Korean attack, most impressively when he clawed Lee Myung-joo’s attempt to safety in the dying seconds of the first half.
The Koreans continued to dictate throughout the second half without finding a way to extend their lead and, in the 76th minute, China pulled level when Yu powered substitute Li Xuepeng’s curling cross from the left past Kim Jin-hyeon.
“In the second half we changed the strategy and that worked well,” said Lippi. “We decided to have a more compact defence and we decided to be more focused on that. That worked well.
“We brought in Xiao Zhi, who is a tall player, and that worked positively and as a result we played better.”
World Cup-bound Japan, meanwhile, snatched a 1-0 win against North Korea thanks to Yosuke Ideguchi’s deflected effort in injury time to put Japan on top of the standings after the first round of matches.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s team of domestic-based players struggled to impose themselves on the North Koreans, who fashioned many of the best chances of the game and would have taken the lead but for the goalkeeping of Kosuke Nakamura.
The Kashiwa Reysol man made a spectacular save from Kim Yu-sung in the 69th minute, diving at full stretch to push a powerful header around the post while, a minute later, Pak Myong-song should have scored with the goal at his mercy.
But Ideguchi’s strike from just outside the area deep into injury time found its way past Ri Myong-guk in the North Korean goal to give Japan a barely deserved win.
China, who finished as runners-up when this tournament was last held in 2015, take on hosts Japan on Tuesday in their next game in the competition while North Korea and South Korea go head-head.
Lippi’s team than finish their campaign against North Korea in the final round of matches in the four-team tournament next Saturday as Japan meet fellow World Cup qualifiers South Korea.