Lippi keeps his word to give opportunities to young players
Fans and media hailed a young Chinese national soccer team after their hard-earned 2-2 draw with arch-rivals South Korea in the opening match at the East Asian Cup soccer tournament on Saturday.
China coach Marcello Lippi had said that one of the main tasks at the regional tournament was to give more opportunities to young players, and the Italian kept his word by starting all six under-23 players in the 25-man squad in Tokyo. The young -players did not let him down as they kept their recent momentum against their Asian neighbors.
Shanghai SIPG striker Wei Shihao, 22, scored after just nine minutes in his debut for the senior national team.
But the Chinese kept the lead for only three minutes before the Taeguk Warriors pulled even. And China were already one goal down in the 19th minute.
China increased pressure on the offense in the second half and finally got the equalizer through Beijing Guoan striker Yu Dabao in the 76th minute.
The Nanfang Daily was thrilled that all young players in the squad got pitch time. "More important than the result is that Lippi started all the young -players in the squad, which shows he didn't lie about giving a chance to young players," the paper wrote. "The young ones showed their vitality and ability."
The Yangtze Evening Post praised Lippi's coaching ability and said it was his substitutions that brought the draw. Despite taking an early lead, "China were overwhelmed by the Koreans most of the time in the first half." Lippi replaced Wei with midfielder Li Xuepeng after halftime and brought on striker Xiao Zhi and midfielder Yin Hongbao later, which saw China improve their performance and finally pull even. "This showed Lippi's magic again," the paper wrote. "He has turned the tables for -China many times both at the World Cup qualifiers and the East Asian Cup."
China have improved after Lippi took over one year ago. They defeated old foes South Korea in the last phase of the World Cup qualifying in March, 1-0, thanks to the goal from Yu. It was just China's second win over South Korea in all their 33 matchups. The media even coined the word "Koreaphobia" to describe China's poor performance against their Asian neighbors.
South Korean media, including the Yonhap News Agency, wrote that China have cured their "Koreaphobia." Fans were pessimistic about their prospects at next year's World Cup, where they were drawn in the same group with defending world champions Germany, as well as Mexico and Sweden.
"What are we going to do with Mexico and Sweden now that we couldn't even beat China?" wrote one fan on social media.
"With defenders like these, how could we play well at the World Cup?" another fan asked.
But most Chinese fans and media refused to be carried away by the team's improvement.
"Don't feel too good," wrote one Chinese fan on Sina Weibo. "South Korean media and fans feel it's like doomsday after failing to defeat China. That only means they're way too better than us."
"The gap between China and South Korea is still apparent despite the result," wrote the Beijing News. "The young players managed a hard-earned draw in the end, and they deserve praise. But if they don't play well in the following games, please show them more encouragement."
China will play Japan on Tuesday before taking on DPRK on December 16 in their last game at the tournament.