Asian Cup: Red letter day for China, North Korea exit
Super-sub Sun Ke fired China into the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday as North Korea crashed out and Jordan fumed over a botched dope test that left a player ill.
Sun`s superb solo effort after 68 minutes, moments after coming on, gave China a pulsating 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan and sent them into the knock-out stages for the first time since 2004.
But there was bitter disappointment for North Korea, who scored their first Asian Cup goal for 23 years but still lost 4-1 to Saudi Arabia and were eliminated.
Away from the pitch, Jordan lodged a formal protest after claiming a bungled doping procedure had left one of their players vomiting, in a "semi-coma" and suffering with hypothermia.
Striker Ahmad Hayel could miss the game against Palestine Friday after he was made to drink "several litres of water" as he tried to provide a urine sample following Monday`s 1-0 defeat by Iraq, according to the Jordanian FA.
Asian Cup organisers insisted the correct protocol had been followed as they busied themselves putting out fires after several refereeing controversies.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, who launched a scathing attack on match officials after his side`s 2-0 win over Bahrain, reacted sarcastically after being asked by the Asian Football Confederation not to comment on referees in his official news conferences.
"I don`t know if we`re entitled to give opinions about refs," said the former Real Madrid manager, dubbed "Rottweiler" by former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson during two spells as assistant at Old Trafford.
"After 32 years of my work in football I was never told I cannot give an opinion about the game."
It was a red letter day for the Chinese, runners-up in 1984 and again as hosts in 2004 but still chasing a first Asian Cup title.
China did it the hard way, going behind to Odil Ahmedov`s deflected shot after 22 minutes.They dragged themselves back into the match, however, Wu Xi equalising with a sharp finish 10 minutes into the second half before Sun`s cracker triggered wild celebrations on the Chinese bench.
A second defeat ultimately sank North Korea after China`s barnstorming comeback, while the Saudis breathed new life into their campaign after being upset 1-0 by the Chinese, who have suddenly emerged as dark horses.
North Korea took an early lead when Japan-based midfielder Ryang Yong-Gi slammed in the rebound after Pak Kwang-Ryong`s fierce drive had been parried by goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
But Naif Hazazi equalised with a clinical finish against the run of play eight minutes before the interval. The Saudi forward`s joy was unbridled, having fluffed a penalty against China at the weekend.
Mohammed Al Sahlawi poked the Gulf side in front seven minutes after the break, before profiting from some horror defending to roll in a third as North Korea began to unravel.
Nawaf Alabid added a fourth and Saudi Arabia, who won the last of their three Asian Cup titles in 1996, face 2011 semi-finalists Uzbekistan for the right to join China in the knockout stages on Sunday.
"I knew North Korea would be dangerous and they gave us trouble," he said. "But I was confident we would wear them down. We had to take some risks. Sometimes you have to assume risks to win."
Pyongyang frequently lavishes cars and apartments on athletes who bring glory to the state, but the North Korean players at least had the consolation of being cheered to the rafters by a crowd of 12,000 in Melbourne for their plucky display.
"We began well but we conceded a soft second goal and that caused us a lot of mental stress," Jo said. "After that we just lost concentration."