Asian Cup 2019 5 Points: Gritty Azkals deserved more against ordinary China

Kelvin Leong Kelvin Leong

With a little luck, Kelvin Leong reckons the Azkals could have come away with a point against a very ordinary-looking China PR. Marcello Lippi must be a worried man.

This game had a strong semblance to the Philippines’ 1-0 loss to Korea Republic where they put on a defensive master class.

Against China PR, the Southeast Asian team could not be faulted for a lack of effort but the Chinese simply had a tad bit more individual finesse.

3-0 the full-time score read and here are five major talking points from the game…

China need to up the ante to go all the way

Marcello Lippi’s team are in the knockout stage but you just don’t see them going all the way do you?

In their two victories against Kyrgyzstan and Philippines, the Chinese never quite produced the sort of football that fans want to see.

Their buildup from defence to attack is slow and they rely a lot on individual brilliance from Wu Lei and Gao Lin upfront.

The true test of their mettle will come in the final Group C game against Korea Republic but Lippi has way too much experience not to realise his troops need to find another gear.

Azkals must build team around rising star Strauss

The Azkals are on their way out of their maiden Asian Cup campaign but they will go home with a lot of optimism for the future, especially in central midfield.

In 22-year-old John-Patrick Strauss, Philippines have unearthed a gem of a player. He shielded the defence and forayed into the final third whenever the opportunity arose.

To go up against China superstar Zheng Zhi and match him toe-to-toe is no mean feat but the young midfield general clocked a solid shift.

The likes of Stephan Schrock and the Younghusband brothers have carried the team for years and the Philippines will do well to build a team around Strauss as they look to the future.

Give him the captain’s armband and let this midfield dynamo lead the Azkals into battle and hopefully, they can finally land that elusive AFF Suzuki Cup title, along with more Asian Cup exploits.

China have to phase out the old boys and rebuild

The Chinese cannot afford to wait any longer. An immediate rebuilding process must happen once this tournament is over.

Phase out the oldies and bring in fresh, hungry youngsters who are willing to die for the country.

10 out of their final 23-man squad are over the age of 30 and five out of their starting 11 are above 30.

Old guards like Feng Xiaoting (33), Zhao Xuri (33), Hao Junmin (31) and Gao (32) must be replaced by the next generation.

And for all that he has done for Chinese football, 38-year-old Zheng Zhi should lay down the captain’s armband and walk away.

They were too slow and too predictable against a well-oiled Philippines side. Creativity was lacking in attack and the defence reeked of weary legs.

Eriksson has brought defensive grit to this team

The Filipinos have never had issues going forward but their defensive line has always been suspect, even at the recent Suzuki Cup.

When Sven-Goran Eriksson was announced as the new Azkals manager just before the Suzuki Cup, there were doubts if the Swede was just a big-name coach to excite fans but he has proven everyone wrong.

In the short span of time, the former England manager has drilled this Azkals team into a stout defensive unit, capable of holding their line and frustrate the opponents.

Korea Republic huffed and puffed before snatching a 1-0 victory while the Chinese, were unable to find their rhythm.

If the Azkals continue to build on Eriksson’s defensive blueprint and couple it with the Filipino flair, it won’t be long before they become Southeast Asia’s numero uno in the footballing world.

Wu Lei magic only bright spark for China

The Chinese put on a very hardworking shift but without one man’s individual brilliance, Lippi could have been staring at a very different full-time result.

Shanghai SIPG’s star man Wu Lei’s first goal was all about technique in putting the ball beyond Michael Falkesgaard but his second goal was on another level altogether.

We’ve seen many players attempt first-time volleys that end up in the bloopers reel but Wu’s magic dust on that right peg was just too good.

Their game against the South Koreans may have little bearing on the outcome of Group C but it will be a tantalising affair between the two number sevens.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min is slated to play that game and Wu will be eager to earn bragging rights as the better player.