China keeps title hopes alive with 2-0 win over HK

12:26, February 16, 2010      

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China maintained their unbeaten run in their final game of the East Asian Football Championships beating a gritty Hong Kong team 2-0 at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday.

China's Zhang Linpeng (L2) breaks through during the Men's East Asian Championship soccer match between China and Hong Kong of China in Tokyo Feb. 14. (Xinhua Photo)

China took the lead after getting off to a slow start on the stroke of half time when Hong Kong failed to clear a free kick and the ball was lobbed back in by Liu Jianye for the on-rushing Qu Bo, reacting quicker than his marker, who deftly brought the ball down and smashed it into the bottom left-hand corner from a narrow angle, leaving keeper Yapp Hung Fai with no chance.

China's increased pressure throughout the second half forced Hong Kong to keep all their players behind the ball, but China always looked likely to find a way through with crisp balls from Deng Zhouxiang and Yang Hao being met by well-timed runs from Gao Hongbo and Qu -- both of who were giving the Hong Kong defense a constant headache with their speed and touch.

Deng was instrumental in China's second as his slide-rule pass released substitute Jiang Ning into the box only to be chopped down in the 74th minute by Hong Kong's Lee Chi Ho as he wound up to shoot, leaving South Korean referee Kim Jong Hyeok with no choice but to point to the spot.

Qu doubled his tally calmly steering his spot-kick into the left-hand netting, sending Yapp the wrong way.

China's Gao Lin shoots during the Men's East Asian Championship soccer match between China and Hong Kong of China in Tokyo Feb. 14. (Xinhua Photo)

China's head coach Gao Hongbo would have probably wished that his team, who were sluggish from the off, were two or three up, which could've been the case had Gao Lin's spectacular acrobatics midway through the first half paid dividends.

The Shanghai Shenhua F.C. striker failed to get proper purchase on a ball that was whipped in from the right and although his bicycle-kick was angled into the net it lacked the venom to beat Hong Kong's No. 1 Yapp.

China should have capitalized moments before Qu's opener when Yang Hao met a clever reverse "gift-wrapped" pass that found him one-on-one with only the keeper to beat.

His low curling effort, hit on the bounce with the outside of his boot, was expertly blocked by Yapp who came off his line early to narrow the angle and got down well to turn the shot away for a corner.

China, in joint first position with Japan with equal points and goals, needed a goal-rush against bottom-placed Hong Kong and hope that their South Korean rivals do them a favor against Japan in the following game, in order to win the four-nation tournament on goal difference.

Wu Lei's introduction in the second half had an immediate impact when he rifled a left-footed drive from just inside the area that Yapp did well to parry and China, on the back of an historic 3-0 win over South Korea in their previous game, breaking a 32-year jinx, started to raise the tempo and thread some useful passes together with Deng looking very comfortable on the right and linking up well with Qu who held the ball up to slow the game down as China settled into a quick neat passing game, leaving Hong Kong with little to do but chase shadows and try to break on the counter.

Hong Kong, to their credit, going into this match in the last place having conceded eight goals and scored none, refused to roll over with their industrious captain Au Yeung Yiu Chung chasing down everything and constantly nibbling at the Chinese to win possession, but forays into the Chinese box were thwarted by some stalwart defending by Zhang Limpeng in the air and on the deck, while Yang Zhi was rarely troubled in goal until the final whistle.

China's Qu Bo (R) celebrates scoring with his teammate Liu Jianye during the Men's East Asian Championship soccer match between China and Hong Kong of China in Tokyo Feb. 14. (Xinhua Photo)

Some robust defending by Hong Kong foiled China's late attempts to make it three, but regardless of the result between the upcoming clash between bitter rivals Japan and South Korea, in which Japan will have to score three more than Korea to beat China in the competition, head coach Gao Hongbo praised the efforts of his players throughout the tournament.

"I'd like to thank my players from the bottom of my heart and believe they did their very best in all three matches in this tournament," said Gao.

"Our more experienced players like Qu Bo and captain Du Wei were of particular importance in this tournament, as they provided inspiration for some of our more junior players," he said.

"China has improved greatly over the past five or six years and through this competition we've gained a lot from playing against great teams like Japan and South Korea, we've been able to find out what our strengths are and if we maintain our progress hopefully we'll be able to compete with such teams on a global stage."

I'd like to thank all the fans that have come out to support China's and root for the national team throughout this tournament," said Gao.

Source: Xinhua
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