Tragic Result in Tianjin...
Disappointment. What can be said about a loss that wasn’t meant to be a loss, that never should have been a loss. There is no question about it, the picture above says it all, the coach, sitting there, looking dejected, but with nothing to say, not acting like a coach. Those with a distant memory will remember back to that rough night in Qatar during the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup. Bora, the now mystical, beloved, coach, but at that time he was embattled, barely hanging on to his job, standing up angrily barking orders, but by his side was Hao Haidong, taken out of the game already all he could do was try to motivate the team, give directions, but who was the coach, Bora or Hao? It was a very different picture Saturday night, the coach, sitting there all game long, another 50/50 foul going against China, another yellow card, and Sun Jihai, probably in his last qualifying campaign, simply couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t take the coach ignoring what was going on, Sun jumped up and yelled at the ref, got himself a red card, got himself suspended for the next match, but it was worth it, it showed somebody actually cared. This is the problem, did any of those players actually care? Where was the emotion in Li Weifeng? Why was Han Peng, who still has many years left, the only one crying? And that's really the question, when once again it looks like China won’t make it to a World Cup, whether it's the players or the people around the country, does anyone actually care anymore???
It didn’t have to be that way. From the start China controlled play, before even a minute passed, Gao Lin had one of the games best chances off a long ball played up, but his shot passed barely wide of the left post. Within the first 10 minutes, another great chance came China’s way after Zheng Zhi beat his defender on the right wing and played a ball into the middle where Zhu Ting attempted a beautiful back heel that would have been one of China’s prettiest goals ever, though it hit the post. The only other scoring chance after that was on a first half cross which the CCTV announcers insisted was a handball in the box, though they (oddly) never replayed it and so it couldn’t be confirmed (and most likely wasn’t).
But then, the moment that changed the match, a free kick given to Qatar after a fine run up the wing by Yusuf Ali (who China didn't have an answer for all night) earning them a free kick and Gao Lin, the player who almost had the early goal, stupidly, wastefully, pulling down his mark, giving the Qataris a penalty kick which was coolly slotted away by Soria to make it 1-0 to Qatar.
And that was all she wrote. Unfortunately at that still early moment it wasn’t known, but it soon became clear, they could have played 120 minutes and China wouldn’t have scored a goal. The lineup, with only 2 veteran players, a major gamble to begin with, went to pieces after that goal. Playing in this do-or-die match, these kids, basically the Olympic squad, were outmatched by the Qatari veterans. The players that should have been leaders, Zheng Zhi and Datou, were as immature as the kids.
As much as the players are to blame for their poor performance, the coach’s role must be questioned. This time, an attacking lineup was chosen, but it was too young, too inexperienced, some players getting their first major national team start. The plan seemed to be to push the ball up the right wing, but when the Qataris figured that out and put 2 or 3 extra men on that side of the field, no adjustment was made. The plan seemed to be to play high balls into the middle and win headers, but Han Peng, the tallest striker, wasn’t on the field until the 2nd half, when that strategy already stopped working. A halftime substitution saw China’s defense, already struggling, reduced to only 3 players as Du Zhenyu went in for Sun Xiang. At that point in the match, to make this kind of attacking move seemed a bit unusual, but I don't have a problem with it. However, still desperately needing a goal (and less than 20 minutes later), the coach decided to switch like for like, taking off 2 forwards and putting 2 other forwards on.
Qatar, simply needing a draw from this result, played their part perfectly after getting the goal. They sat back, put their men in the box so that even when a Chinese player beat his man on the wing, the cross could be innocently parried away, and then played the counter attack perfectly, coming up with a few quality chances. They also used the Chinese players urgency and frustration against them. The Chinese team tallied up yellow cards with sometime stupid, sometimes iffy fouls, but this forced them to play more reserved. Li Weifeng, a veteran playing in what is perhaps his last World Cup qualifying campaign, led the way for juvenile play, often arguing with the refs and resorting to a number of questionable actions (including an outright push) that probably should have earned him a second yellow card.
So what's left to be said? Iraq comes into Tianjin next weekend pumped up after their win over Australia (like I said, no way the Aussies were going on the road and coming back with 6 points) and knowing a win in this match could see them going from bottom of the group (and almost kicked out of the competition) to a likely qualifier, while China will be without Sun Jihai and Li Weifeng and will seemingly have a hard time getting up for this match.
Oh yeah, let Petrovic finish up the qualifying campaign and then DUMP HIM! Let's just hope his replacement will do a better job...