Asian Cup 2019

Hwang saves South Korea, China off to winning start

China's Yu Dabao rounding Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Pavel Matiash in the 78th minute to score the winning goal in the 2-1 Asian Cup Group C victory yesterday. Below: South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo made light of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min's abs
China's Yu Dabao rounding Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Pavel Matiash in the 78th minute to score the winning goal in the 2-1 Asian Cup Group C victory yesterday. PHOTO: XINHUA
China's Yu Dabao rounding Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Pavel Matiash in the 78th minute to score the winning goal in the 2-1 Asian Cup Group C victory yesterday. Below: South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo made light of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min's abs
South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo made light of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min's absence to net the winner against the Philippines yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DUBAI • Hwang Ui-jo scored nine goals to usurp his more illustrious compatriot Son Heung-min in South Korea's 2018 Asian Games gold-winning campaign.

In the absence of the Tottenham Hotspur star, the Gamba Osaka man turned out to be the hero again yesterday, scoring the winner as the Asian Cup contenders toiled to a 1-0 Group C opening win over debutants Philippines despite having over 80 per cent of the ball.

The in-form Son, with nine goals in 10 games for Spurs, will join the team after the Premier League match with Manchester United, meaning he would be available only for the final game against China.

Philippines coach Sven-Goran Eriksson had promised to give the Asian powerhouses a fight and the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finalists nearly scored first. Korea, the 2015 runners-up who are hoping to win their first Asian Cup since 1960, were indebted to Kim Seung-gyu.

The goalkeeper dived to his right to deny Javier Patino in the 54th minute before Hwang scored the winner 13 minutes later.

In the other Group C game, a double goalkeeping blunder helped China come from behind to beat the 91st-ranked Kyrgyzstan 2-1.

The Central Asians bossed the first half on their Cup debut and forced Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi into introducing a 24th-minute substitute, Yu Dabao, who turned out to be the match-winner.

While they deservedly led 1-0 at the break after Akhlidin Israilov's rasping strike, they were undone by their goalkeeper Pavel Matiash. First, he palmed the ball into his net shortly after half-time. Then he was caught in no-man's land before he was rounded by Beijing Guoan forward Yu 12 minutes from the end.

Lippi was "enormously unhappy" about the 76th-ranked China's first half, saying: "I thought if we keep playing like that, we're going to lose. The goalkeeper's error, it's very lucky. After that, we created many chances, I am proud of what we showed in the second half. "

Meanwhile, Thailand sacked coach Milovan Rajevac seven hours after Sunday's 4-1 loss to India.

The Serb was already under pressure going into the quadrennial tournament. Last month, he failed in the defence of the country's Asean title, albeit with a weakened team, losing to Malaysia in the semi-finals on the away-goals rule.

Assistant coach Sirisak Yodyathai was appointed as acting coach, with Group A games against Bahrain (on Thursday) and host United Arab Emirates to come.

Football Association of Thailand president Somyot Poompanmoung said: "Like all Thai football fans, I am also disappointed with the result. But, as the FA president, I cannot stand still with this problem."

Rajevac, 65, was hired in April 2017 to replace Kiatisuk Senamuang after spells with Qatar and Algeria.

He was best known for guiding Ghana to the last eight of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and was voted the confederation's Coach of the Year.

But his pragmatism, preferring to counter attack at times, has won few fans, who want to see a more attacking Thailand instead of a direct style with long balls.

Ironically, India were able to hit them on the counter repeatedly in the second half and scored thrice.

Former Socceroo Robert Cornthwaite tweeted: "The Thai fans and media wanted to see a more attacking side but at what cost? Lost their defensive stability and already conceded twice inside 50 minutes."

Thailand, appearing for the first time since co-hosting the Cup in 2007, have now won just one of 21 games at the continent's showcase competition.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2019, with the headline 'Hwang saves South Korea, China off to winning start'. Print Edition | Subscribe