Saudi Arabia 0 China 1
China – Yu Hai 81’
Both teams entered their opening fixture with three vital points in mind after Uzbekistan won their initial game against North Korea. Interim head coach Cosmin Olaroiu did not deviate from his predecessor’s lineup from the Gulf Cup with only Mustafa Bassas replacing Waleed Bakhushwain in the starting eleven. China’s head coach Alain Perrin, who was appointed in the very end of the qualifiers of the Asian Cup seemed to be still finding a rhythm for his team which only claimed a point out of a possible six against the Saudis in the qualifiers.
The first half was a midfield battle as both teams could barely maintain a passing combination, with China being the better of the two in terms of possession.
China came close to scoring as midfielder Wu Xi found himself inside the penalty box in the 43rd minute with his shot going wide, much to goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah’s relief.
The second half saw a resurgence from Saudi Arabia as possession shifted in favour of the Green Falcons and lone striker Naif Hazazi – who was isolated in the first half – finally got a few good balls from his midfielders.
The incessant pressure from the Saudi side finally paid off when Hazazi was taken down in the penalty box by defender Ren Hang in the 61st minute. Hazazi stepped up to take the penalty only for goalkeeper Wang Dalei to keep the score level.
Hazazi came close again when he made a run inside China’s box in the 77th minute only for his shot to go wide.
China withstood everything the Saudis had thrown at them eventually breaking through in the 81st minute, when striker Yu Hai converted his free-kick from 30 meters which deflected off Nawaf Al Abed’s hip and caught Waleed Abdullah off guard, who unfortunately could not respond as quick.
Saudi Arabia kept trying, and nearly came close in the dying seconds of the game as substitute Mohammed Al Sahlawi found a headed pass from Hazazi in the six yard box only for defender Zhang Linpeng to block him off.
China climbed to the top of the table equaling Uzbekistan in points, with both facing each other in the second round. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile will hope to pick themselves against DPR Korea.
Wang Dalei (China) – The Chinese goalkeeper was strong between the posts. He faced little challenge, but when called upon made the right decisions and kept his side in the game.
Salem Al Dossari (Saudi Arabia) – The Saudi winger was expected to be more active and cause trouble on the wing. The skilful Salem was anything but that, as he contributed little on the offensive end, and even less in the defensive end.
Saudi Arabia overall
The Saudis were cautious with their conservative tactics in the first half, which led to striker Naif Hazazi being isolated from his midfielders for most of the first half. The second saw an improvement but with the absence of that final ball, that improvement was nothing more than an element to bump up the possession stat.
China weren’t convincing in the game either, and surely do not look like a legitimate contender for the title, yet. But they knew exactly what to do in order get the win, by giving the Saudis all the space they want in the middle of the park and shielding their penalty box. Yu Hai’s free-kick may have been fortunate, but China deserved a goal in this match.
Saudi Arabia hasn’t had the best of first rounds in the cup since last winning the title in 96 with two losses and two draws in the group stages. This loss is not surprising, however their reaction to it is yet to be seen. China did not entertain but were efficient.