China’s East Asian Championship hopes end as Japan ride freak Gen Shoji goal to victory
Marcello Lippi rues his team’s inability to control the ball during 2-1 loss to hosts in Tokyo
Gen Shoji’s outrageous goal in the dying minutes ended China’s hopes of winning the East Asian Championship on Tuesday evening, leaving Marcello Lippi ruing his team’s inability to control possession at the end of their 2-1 loss to Japan at Ajinomoto Stadium.
Shoji thumped the ball beyond Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei from the edge of the centre circle to double Japan’s lead with just three minutes remaining after Yu Kobayashi had put Vahid Halilhodzic’s side ahead in the 84th minute.
An injury time penalty from Yu Dabao halved the deficit but it was not enough to spark a late comeback from Lippi’s team, who now have just one point from their first two games at the championship.
That leaves China in third place in the group with one match remaining, five points behind Japan and three adrift of South Korea, who defeated North Korea earlier in the day.
“It was a very difficult game, especially in the first half,” said Lippi. “During the first 15 minutes I think Japan fought very hard and it was a game that was very balanced between the teams.
“In the second half our players, especially Yu Dabao, were very aggressive inside the pitch and they created a lot of chances for us.
“What I can say is that when you play, you have to have a certain mentality to keep possession of the ball. That’s really important and I understand that Japan does this better than China at the moment and this translates into the result of the game.
“But if you look overall at how the game was, China did not deserve to lose this game. Especially if you consider the first 15 minutes of the first half and that 15-minute period in the second half when we were playing really well.”
China were looking to secure their first win over Japan in almost 20 years, when a pair of goals from Li Bing earned Bob Houghton’s team a 2-0 win over the Japanese in the final game of the Dynasty Cup in March 1998.
Lippi retained the services of four of the six youngsters who started against South Korea in the 2-2 draw on Saturday, with Wei Shihao, He Chao, Gao Zhunyi and Liu Yiming all keeping their places.
They were the only players to survive a mass cull by the Italian, who gave Li Xuepeng the starting berth on the left after the Guangzhou Evergrande man impressed in the opening game while Wang replaced Yan Junling in goal.
The game looked set to end in stalemate with Kobayashi missing a pair of first half chances before Yu and Wei also squandered scoring opportunities for China.
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But Kobayashi’s goal after Wang spilt the ball with six minutes remaining allowed Japan to put their noses in front before Shoji’s ridiculous strike meant Yu’s penalty was academic, with the final whistle blowing less than a minute later.
South Korea, meanwhile, had an own goal from Ri Yong-chol to thank for their 1-0 win over North Korea in the evening’s opening game as the World Cup-bound nation picked up their first win in pursuit of a successful title defence.
The Taeguk Warriors’ long-standing struggles in front of goal continued, with Shin Tae-yong’s side lucky to earn three points after Jin Seon-guk missed a series of chances against a North Korean side lacking the verve shown in their opening loss against Japan.
“South Korea have a good team and individual players and it was very difficult for us,” said North Korea coach Jorn Andersen.
“It was a special game for us, for the players and the country, and I think in the first 30 minutes they were nervous and not as free as in the game against Japan. They were a little closed and not so prepared like against Japan.”
Jin, a 23-year-old striker who plays his club football for Jeju United, was earning his first cap for South Korea and was a constant menace to the North Korean defence without finding the back of the net.
He volleyed wide just before the break and found the hands of goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk soon after the resumption with an unchallenged header, while also shooting wide from close range as South Korea’s pressure continued.
It was as a result of that continued focus that Shin’s side finally took the lead as Kim min-woo’s cross from the left was turned into his own goal by Ri with Jin breathing down his neck.
Shin shifted his tactical line-up to start with a new defensive structure and the former Seongnam Ilhwa coach stressed his side would need tactical flexibility when they travel to Russia in June.
“This tournament is preparation for the World Cup and at the World Cup if we play with four or five backs there will be situations where we need to play that way,” said Shin.
“We need to be realistic and prepare for that. The first game was an unlucky result for us, but the players did what I asked them to do and I think they did a good job and I’m thankful for that. I think South Korea is, little by little, getting better.”