China’s teenage won­der daz­zles in de­but

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

TEENAGE for­ward Zhang Yun­ing has given China’s World Cup hopes a lift after a bustling com­pet­i­tive de­but con­firmed his emer­gence as one of the coun­try’s most ex­cit­ing new foot­ball tal­ents.

The Dutch-based 19-year-old, in­stantly recog­nis­able by his slicked­back hair, proved a real hand­ful for Iran’s de­fence as China held Asia’s top-ranked side 0-0 for their first point in the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing for Rus­sia 2018.

Zhang was sin­gled out by Iran’s ex­pe­ri­enced coach Car­los Queiroz after his Septem­ber 6 stand-out per­for­mance, in which he twice came close to break­ing the dead­lock in Shenyang.

It fol­lows his break­through as the first Chi­nese player to score in the Nether­lands’ Ere­di­visie, when he nod­ded an in­jury-time win­ner for Vitesse Arn­hem against Roda JC in March.

Zhang also scored on the last day of the sea­son against FC Twente and, after bag­ging two in China’s 4-2 friendly win against Trinidad and Tobago in June, his first com­pet­i­tive in­ter­na­tional was only a mat­ter of time.

Coach Gao Hongbo chose to start Zhang in Shenyang and it proved an as­tute move as the teenager came close with a spec­tac­u­lar ef­fort in the first half, and was only de­nied by a des­per­ate block in the sec­ond be­fore he came off on 79 min­utes.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing. To rep­re­sent China on the global stage is one of my dreams when I was a kid,” Zhang told the Global Times. “I think the pace of the qual­i­fier is fine with me. I don’t have any wor­ries.”

Zhang’s rise is tan­ta­lis­ing for China as they at­tempt not only to reach their sec­ond World Cup but also to build a team ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing es­tab­lished pow­ers in the fu­ture.

Zhang was only five in 2002 when China fin­ished win­less and goal­less in their only World Cup fi­nals ap­pear­ance, and puts a fresh new face on the team after years of dis­ap­point­ments on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Tues­day’s draw kept China in the hunt for a spot at Rus­sia 2018, but Gao was keen to play down ex­pec­ta­tions de­spite promis­ing signs on Septem­ber 6 and in last week’s 3-2 de­feat to South Korea.

“Our team is the last one get­ting into this round. All the other teams are tough for us,” said Gao, ac­cord­ing to the Global Times. “But I am sat­is­fied that the play­ers fought to the end.”

How­ever, Queiroz, the for­mer Por­tu­gal coach and one-time as­sis­tant to Alex Fer­gu­son at Manch­ester United, warned that China’s op­po­nents should un­der­es­ti­mate them at their peril.

“All the games are like the fi­nals. Coach Gao has made China com­pact and en­thu­si­as­tic,” said the Por­tuguese. –

Photo: AFP

Zhang Yun­ing, who was just five years old the last time China made the World Cup, storms down­field dur­ing their Septem­ber 6 match against Iran.

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