China faces attacking crisis ahead of Asian Cup match vs Azkals
AI AIN, United Arab Emirates – Even after China secured a 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan that catapulted it to the top of Group C, Team Dragon finds itself in serious trouble with a possible injury to star forward Wu Lei.
The Chinese Super League topscorer – reportedly linked with Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers last year – remained doubtful for the team's second Group C clash against the Philippines on Friday, January 11 due to a suspected collarbone injury. (READ: Azkals look to 'get out' of 2019 Asian Cup group stage)
"I really hope not," said China head coach Marcello Lippi, when asked if the injury was serious. "I hope he'll be available (against the Philippines) but it's not certain."
China continued to have threadbare options in the attacking third as makeshift forward Yu Dabao came off the bench in the 24th minute to net the winner in the 78th minute over debutant Kyrgyzstan.
Yu played as a defender last season for Beijing Guoan as Lippi said overseas forwards flooding the cashed-up Chinese Super League have squeezed out Chinese players, which he believed could damage their Asian Cup campaign.
"This shows our situation in China. In China, nearly all the foreign players are forwards," said Lippi, who led his native Italy to the 2006 World Cup title.
"It means for our attack, I have to pick a player who spent the season in central defense."
The Philippine Azkals remained at the bottom of Group C, but shocked the tournament by conceding only one goal to Asian powerhouse South Korea.
Lippi was proven right with China's unconvicing start to the Asian Cup against Kyrgyzstan – which led at halftime and should have grabbed at least a draw if not for a bungling own goal by its goalkeeper in the 50th minute.
Defensively, Team Dragon was continually picked apart by an inventive Kyrgyzstan, who dominated the 1st half and had chances for a late equalizer.
Alexandre Pato, Hulk and Oscar are among the well-paid foreign attacking players in China, where football authorities have tried to clamp down on expensive new arrivals by imposing a heavy tax on transfer fees and a salary cap.
However, Lippi was also a beneficiary of the trend during his time at Guangzhou Evergrande, when the likes of Dario Conca, Elkeson and Muriqui inspired the club to 4 CSL titles and the 2013 Asian Champions League crown.
Goal-shy China scored just 5 goals in their 6 friendlies since September and Lippi revealed he gave his players a halftime rocket after a typically slow start against Kyrgyzstan.
"It's not the first time. In the two-and-a-half years I've been the national team coach, it's happened many times that we've played a negative 1st half," he said.
"I start to get angry and push my players, and then I get the reaction that I wanted from the first minute. It seems like it's a characteristic of Chinese players." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/ Rappler.com