Yu keeps China's World Cup dreams afloat

China's Yu Dabao celebrating his 34th-minute goal against South Korea with Wang Yongpo. The goal was the sole difference between both sides and a win against Syria in their next game could put China back in contention for a play-off spot.
China's Yu Dabao celebrating his 34th-minute goal against South Korea with Wang Yongpo. The goal was the sole difference between both sides and a win against Syria in their next game could put China back in contention for a play-off spot.PHOTO: XINHUA

CHANGSHA (China) • Yu Dabao struck in the first half as Marcello Lippi's China stunned South Korea 1-0 to keep their slim World Cup hopes alive yesterday.

The Beijing Guoan forward's header ensured China's first win of in the final qualifying group - and only their second victory over the South Koreans in 32 attempts.

"We were under great pressure before the game and now we have laid a good foundation with the three points," said Yu.

The victory sent a packed Helong Stadium into raptures as China, who were bottom and winless after five games in Group A, gave themselves a glimmer of hope of reaching the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.

The game was played against the backdrop of high political tensions following Chinese anger over South Korea's contentious deployment of Thaad, a missile defence system.

In front of a partisan crowd and a heavy security presence, South Korea were on top early on but Yu forced a smart save from Kwoun Sun Tae near the half-hour mark.

And Yu broke through on 34 minutes when he nodded China ahead from a corner - ending the national team's 407-minute goal drought, stretching back to their 2-3 loss to the same team in September.

South Korea nearly hit back quickly and Ji Dong Won twice brushed the top of the netting before China made it to half-time with a 1-0 lead.

South Korea threw on giant forward Kim Shin Wook in search of an equaliser, as the game opened up with chances for both sides.

South Korean captain Ki Sung Yueng's long-range shot was saved by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng, while substitute Wu Xi had a curling effort saved at the other end.

The lone flare-up came when Korea's Hwang Hee Chan lashed out at a prone Yin Hongbo in the final minutes, and it was ultimately a deserved win for Lippi's team.

China will now play Syria away on Tuesday, knowing another win could put them in the hunt for third place in the group and a play-off berth.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Yu keeps China's World Cup dreams afloat'. Print Edition | Subscribe