CANBERRA (AFP) – China’s hopes of prolonging their Asian Cup run and upsetting Australia in the quarter-finals have been dealt a blow after captain Zheng Zhi went down with a back injury.
The former Celtic and Charlton Athletic midfielder, who hurt his back in Sunday’s 2-1 win over North Korea and was substituted after 53 minutes, faces a race against time to be fit for their clash with the hosts on Thursday.
China finished with a perfect three wins out of three in Group B, but Zheng’s absence was plain to see once he left the pitch in Canberra as North Korea began to take control, almost snatching an equaliser with a shot against the bar.
“The reason he left the pitch was because he told me he had picked up a little problem in his back,” China coach Alain Perrin told reporters. “I hope it’s not that bad.” The 2013 Asian player of the year is one of China’s most successful footballing exports and the 34-year-old’s calming influence is crucial to his side’s chances of winning a first Asian Cup.
China have twice finished runners-up, most recently as hosts of the 2004 tournament when they were beaten by Japan in a controversial final in Beijing.