China, South Korea, Iran open Asian Cup with victories

AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With coach Marcello Lippi in charge and the team needing a bit of help from an own-goal, China came from behind to beat Kyrgyzstan 2-1 at the Asian Cup last Monday.

Lippi, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, is trying to win another title in what is likely to be his last major tournament. But it won’t be easy in the United Arab Emirates.

Another coaching heavyweight, Sven-Goran Eriksson, lost his opening match of the Asian Cup when South Korea defeated the Philippines 1-0 in Dubai in the other Group C game.

In Group D, another favourite, Iran, routed Yemen 5-0.

China entered the Asian Cup with one win in seven games, including draws against Palestine, India, and Bahrain. It didn’t look much better at the start of last Monday’s match.

Akhlidin Israilov gave Kyrgyzstan the lead with a low left-foot shot from outside the box just before halftime.

But five minutes into the second half, Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Pavel Matiash jumped to handle what seemed to be an easy catch following a corner kick. He was under no pressure with two of his teammates around him, but the ball went into the net off his gloves.

Philippines’ midfielder Stephan Schrock (L) and South Korea’s midfielder Lee Jae-Sung battle for the ball. – AP

Yu Dabao then angled in a left-footer in the 78th minute to ensure the fourth straight victory for China in its Asian Cup opening game and improve its record against Kyrgyzstan to 3-0.

A runner-up in 1984 and 2004, China face the Philippines and South Korea in their remaining group games.

In Dubai, the Philippines had only 18 per cent possession against the 2015 Asian Cup runner-up but managed to hold firm until the 67th minute.

With forward Son Heung-min absent, Hwang Ui-jo scored the lone goal for South Korea. The in-form Son is still with his Tottenham club for one more English Premier League match against Manchester United last Sunday before joining South Korea. He could be away for up to five of Tottenham’s matches in all competitions if South Korea reaches the final on February 1 in Abu Dhabi.

South Korea reached the final at the previous Asian Cup.

In Abu Dhabi, two first-half goals from Mehdi Taremi helped Iran ease past Yemen.

Iran is seeking a fourth title, with former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz in charge of Asia’s top-ranked team.