Sour Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson scrapped dinner plans with old foe Marcello Lippi after China thrashed his Philippines side 3-0 yesterday to reach the last 16 of the Asian Cup. China’s star striker Wu Lei fired a brilliant double against the Filipino ‘Street Dogs’ in Abu Dhabi as Lippi emerged victorious in a heavyweight coaching clash.
As is custom between the two elder statesmen of the game, the loser buys the other dinner, washed down with a vintage bottle of wine. But Eriksson had little stomach for the old pals’ act when the septuagenarians embraced after the match. “No, no dinner plans,” snapped the former England manager.
“I was not in a very good mood for a long discussion. I just wished (Lippi) good luck for the future. We forgot about Wu Lei — twice,” grimaced Eriksson, who previously coached the match-winner at Chinese club Shanghai SIPG. “If you do that he will punish you and he did with two great goals. We paid a heavy price but we are not home yet. We still have hope — but small hope, probably.”
China, runners-up in 1984 and 2004, top Group C with a perfect six points from two games — ahead of South Korea on goal difference — after beating Kyrgyzstan 2-1 in their opening game. But they looked far sharper against the Philippines, like the former Soviet republic also appearing in their first Asian Cup.
“I’m very proud of my players,” said Lippi, who led his native Italy to World Cup victory in 2006. “If we can continue to play like that we have nothing to fear from any team at this Asian Cup.”
Lippi’s side should have led after 32 minutes when Wu Xi headed wastefully wide from point-blank range. But Wu Lei provided the spark five minutes before half-time, turning on the edge of the box and whipping a right-foot shot into the far corner. His second was even better as he swivelled to slam a Hao Junmin free kick past goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard on the volley after 66 minutes to effectively finish the tie. Substitute Yu Dabao added a third 10 minutes from time for China, who are looking to improve on their quarter-final finish in Australia four years ago.
Lippi waxed lyrical about the prolific Wu Lei, China’s most coveted player and Shanghai’s record goalscorer, who has been linked with a move to English Premier League side Wolves. “He looked very sharp and scored two goals,” said the Italian. “But we are used to seeing that quality from him. It is no wonder teams in Europe are interested in him.”
Pulverised 8-1 the last time the teams met in 2017, the Philippines gave China more of a fight this time, having lost 1-0 to South Korea earlier this week. Kevin Ingreso forced a fingertip save from China goalkeeper Yan Junling in first-half stoppage time, but Eriksson’s players faded badly after the break. South Korea, runners-up in 2015, beat Kyrgyzstan 1-0 to advance to the knockout stage.
Group B: Australia 3 (Maclaren 18, Mabil 20, Giannou 90) Palestine 0
Group C: China 3 (Wu Lei 49, 66, Yu Dabao 80) Philippines 0; South Korea 1 (Kim Min-jae 41) Kyrgyzstan 0
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