SEOUL • Zheng Zhi's early own goal ultimately condemned China to a 3-2 defeat by South Korea on yesterday despite a spirited fight- back in their 2018 World Cup qualifier.
China's talisman became their fall guy, as he inadvertently bundled Son Heung Min's free kick into his own net in the 20th minute at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Further goals from Lee Chung Yong and Koo Ja Cheol piled on the pain for China, but the visitors nearly made a stunning comeback following late strikes from Yu Hai and Hao Junmin.
However, an equaliser eluded Gao Hongbo's men as they embarked on the year-long final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.
After Zheng's own goal, it was not until the 62nd minute that Lee climbed to head in South Korea's second goal, before Koo slotted their third four minutes later.
Yu's blistering finish pulled one back for China and, when Hao curled in a textbook free kick with 14 minutes on the clock, Korean nerves were jangling.
Son, fighting for his place at Tottenham Hotspur, was in the thick of it in the early exchanges and he shot wide on 18 minutes.
Two minutes later, Zhang Linpeng was booked for bringing down Oh Jae Suk just outside the box. From Son's free kick, Ji Dong Won's glancing header went in off Zheng's shin.
It was not until the 28th minute that China had their first clear sight of the Korean goal, when Wu Lei broke down the right before shooting harmlessly wide.
South Korea hung on for the narrow victory, with goalkeeper Jung Sung Ryong making some crucial saves.