Saudi Arabia’s hopes of successfully defending their AFC U-20 Asian Cup title hang in the balance after a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of China in the second round of games in Group D on Monday.
Despite dominating possession and creating plenty of chances, two sucker-punch second-half goals left the young Green Falcons with much to do if they are to reach the quarter-finals.
They sit in third place in the group after two games, level with China on three points but with an inferior goal difference. Now everything depends on what happens on Thursday when Saudi Arabia take on Japan, who top the group with six points after defeating Kyrgyzstan earlier on Monday.
A combination of clinical Chinese finishing and some excellent goalkeeping from Li Hao denied Saleh Al-Mohammadi’s team in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
In their opening group game, China scored early against Japan but ended up losing 2-1. They were unable to replicate that good start on Monday, although Liu Haofan’s early snapshot from the left of the six-yard box did look to be heading into the top corner before Osama Al-Mermesh pulled off the save.
After 16 minutes, Abdullah Radif, who scored the goal that secured the Kingdom’s 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan in their opening game, managed to get past the goalkeeper but the striker was so far out on the left, and the angle so tight, his attempt was always unlikely to end up in the net.
Saudi Arabia were starting to dominate, however, and just after the half-hour mark, Musab Al-Juwayr’s free-kick had the Chinese goalkeeper scrambling but the ball went just over. Seconds later, Yaseen Al-Zubaidi’s low shot from inside the area was blocked by defender Zhang Yixuan.
The deadlock was very nearly broken six minutes after the restart. Suhayb Al-Zaid took possession in a central area and let fly from just outside the area with a right-footed shot. It beat the goalkeeper but, much to the relief of the Chinese, came back off the bottom of the right-hand post. Abdullah Al-Zaid’s low shot was then saved by Li.
The young Falcons were turning the screw but just could not make the breakthrough against some determined defending and fine goalkeeping. On the hour, Li made a double save at his far post, first blocking a shot from Al-Juwayr and then getting up quickly to save Radif’s follow-up.
The pressure was building and more chances were being created as Saudi Arabia continued to push forward, and it seemed just a matter of time before the opening goal came.
Come it did but it was the Chinese who were celebrating in the 65th minute. After reaching the penalty area, Aifeierding Aisikaer cut inside from the left and Mutellip Iminqari got to the cross first, sliding to touch the ball home from close range.
Six minutes later, the Reds added a second on the counterattack. This time Iminqari turned provider, slipping the ball through the defense for Xu Bin to slot home from close range.
Up to that point, Saudi Arabia had enjoyed 73 percent of the possession but they had been given a tough lesson in clinical finishing by their East Asian opponents. They continued to create chances but could not find a way back into the game.
Now the focus shifts to Thursday’s group finale against Japan and if the Saudis are unable to better China’s result against Kyrgyzstan, the defending champions will be back home by the end of the week.
Source : Arab News