BRISBANE (AFP) - Midfielder Yu Hai struck in the 81st minute to give China a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in their Asian Cup opener in Brisbane on Saturday.
A Group B game between two evenly matched sides appeared to be headed for a draw until Yu's free kick from 30 metres out took a wicked deflection and left Saudi keeper Waleed Abdullah stranded.
China dominated the first half, but Saudi Arabia improved after the interval and should have taken the lead in the 59th minute after Naif Hazazi was awarded a penalty, but his tame spot kick allowed goalkeeper Wang Dalei to save with his legs.
The Saudis paid for their lack of precision in front of goal, Salem Aldawsari and Mustafa Albassas also squandering good opportunities.
China gradually began to assert control and found space down both wings, Zhang Chengdong particularly dangerous down the right, and he was instrumental in several of China's best moves.
They were were unlucky not to go into half time leading, with Wu Xi twice failing to convert just before the break.
Saudi Arabia, who won the last of their three Asian Cup titles in 1996, emerged with more purpose after the team talk and were by far the more threatening side.
Saeed Almuwallad went close after 56 minutes before Naif's glaring penalty miss.
The Saudis kept attacking and looked the more likely to score, Salem heading straight at Wang, while Omar Howsawi's volley blazed over the crossbar.
But the Chinese, runners-up in 1984 and 2004, defended superbly and caught their opponents with a classic sucker punch, leaving the former champions with little time to mount a response.
China and Uzbekistan, who beat North Korea by the same scoreline earlier, jointly lead Group B.