Korea, China tie 2-2 in opening East Asia match

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Korea, China tie 2-2 in opening East Asia match


The Korean men’s football team walks off the field after playing China to a 2-2 draw in the opening match of the East Asian Football Federation’s E-1 Football Championship at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday. [YONHAP]

South Korea played China to a 2-2 draw in the opening game of East Asia’s premier football championship in Tokyo on Saturday.

South Korea blew a 2-1 lead late in the second half and settled for one point to kick off the East Asian Football Federation’s E-1 Football Championship at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo.

They will next face North Korea tomorrow and close out the four-nation tournament with a match against Japan next Saturday. All matches will be at Ajinomoto Stadium, and South Korea is the defending champion of the biennial event.

The team got off to a shaky start against China, allowing Wei Shihao to score the opening goal just nine minutes into the contest, but lanky striker Kim Shin-wook leveled the score just three minutes later, converting a feed from Lee Jae-sung.

The two teammates from the K League Classic champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors connected again for the go-ahead goal, with Lee being the beneficiary of Kim’s headed pass in the 19th minute.

South Korea nearly went up by two goals near the end of the first half. Yeom Ki-hun’s corner kick in the 44th minute bounced off a body and landed by Lee Myung-joo, but goalkeeper Yan Junling denied the South Korean midfielder from point-blank range.

The teams traded few serious chances in the second half, but in the 62nd minute, South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon made a spectacular save to keep his team ahead.

Left alone right at the goalmouth, Zhao Xuri deftly redirected a Deng Hanwen cross from the right side, but Kim punched it out of harm’s way at the last moment.

China continued to increase pressure on the offense and finally got their equalizer in the 76th minute, when Yu Dabao headed in Li Xuepeng’s cross from the left flank.

Yu jumped over multiple defenders and found the top left-hand corner of the net, leaving Kim Jin-hyeon virtually frozen to his spot.

In the second half, South Korea appeared to run out of gas at both ends and failed to mount much of an attack after Yu’s header.

“We weren’t able to convert several good scoring chances in the first half, and then gave up the equalizer in the second half,” Coach Shin Tae-yong said in a post-match news conference. “I am deeply disappointed. You’re bound to give up goals in football, but I think our defense let in goals way too easily. The defenders looked sluggish as a unit.”

Shin said he liked the way his players applied some strong forechecking early, but their passes were off the mark too often. Defensive positioning also left much to be desired, the coach said.

“We didn’t play our game in the second half and let the opponents take control with counterattacks,” Shin said. “We must make sure we stay focused for the entire 90 minutes.”

South Korea now has 18 wins, 13 draws and two losses all-time against China. The Koreans lost their previous showdown against China 1-0 during the final Asian qualifying round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in March.

The E-1 Championship isn’t part of FIFA’s international match calendar, and European clubs weren’t obliged to release their international players for this competition. Coach Shin was thus left to assemble his team with players from South Korean, Chinese and Japanese leagues.

The tournament is one of the last opportunities for these players make their case to be on next year’s World Cup squad for South Korea.

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