South Korea holds on to beat China in World Cup qualifier

World Today

China’s Zheng Zhi, right, scores an own goal against his team’s goal keeper Zeng Cheng against South Korea during the soccer match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

China’s transformation into a soccer superpower will need some more time.

The Chinese team opened its World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 loss to South Korea on Thursday, despite a spirited comeback with two goals in the final 16 minutes.

CCTV’s Jack Barton reports.

South Korea holds on to beat China in World Cup qualifier

South Korea holds on to beat China in World Cup qualifier

The Chinese team opened its World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 loss to South Korea on Thursday.

“We finished strongly,” China coach Gao Hongbo said. “We were losing 3-0 but we kept going right until the end and scored two. Korea is a more experienced team than us but these kinds of games will help us going forward.”

China is looking to reach the World Cup for the time since 2002. That was also the last time the national team appeared in the final round of qualification.

South Korea, conversely, is aiming to qualify for a ninth straight World Cup.

Zheng Zhi scored an own-goal to put South Korea ahead in first half of the Group A match. Lee Chung-yong of Crystal Palace headed home a second before Bundesliga player Koo Ja-cheol made it 3-0 midway through the second half.

Hai Yu pulled a goal back for China in the 74th minute and Hao Junmin curled in a free kick two minutes later.

“In the end, a comfortable game with us leading 3-0 in the second half became a difficult one,” South Korea coach Uli Stielike said. “In the last 15-20 minutes, it was frustrating to let China back in the game through our mistakes.”

There are still nine games remaining in Group A, which also contains Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Syria. The top two teams from the group will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

China next hosts Iran in Shenyang on Tuesday while South Korea travels to Malaysia to take on Syria, which is unable to host games because of the ongoing security situation in the country.

“I think you will see a better Chinese team after five or six games of the qualification campaign as we collect more experience,” Gao said.

China, which spent more than $400 million in 2016 to bring high-profile foreign stars to the Chinese league, has only beaten South Korea once in 31 meetings.

“There has been a lot of investment made in Chinese football,” Stielike said, “and in the future China can become a dangerous team.”