Yu Dabao struck in the first half as Marcello Lippi’s China stunned South Korea 1-0 to keep their slim World Cup hopes alive on Thursday.
The Beijing Guoan forward’s header ensured China’s first win of in the final qualifying group — and only their second victory over the Koreans in 32 attempts.
The victory sent a packed Helong Stadium into raptures as China, who were bottom and winless after five games in Group A, gave themselves a glimmer of hope of reaching Russia 2018.
The game was played against the backdrop of high political tensions following Chinese anger over South Korea’s deployment of a controversial missile defence system.
In front of a partisan crowd and a heavy security presence, South Korea were on top early on but they had a warning when Yu forced a smart save from Kwoun Sun-Tae near the half-hour.
And Yu broke through on 34 minutes when he nodded China ahead from a corner — ending a 407-minute goal drought stretching back to their 3-2 defeat to the Koreans in September.
South Korea nearly hit back quickly and Ji Dong-Won twice brushed the top of the netting before China made it to the break with a shock 1-0 lead.
South Korea threw on giant forward Kim Shin-Wook for the second half and as they poured forward in search of an equaliser, the game opened up with chances for both sides.
Korean captain Ki Sung-Yueng let fly with a rocket of a shot on 65 minutes, and Chinese substitute Wu Xi had a curling effort saved at the other end.
On 75 minutes, China’s Zeng Cheng saved brilliantly from Ji’s close-range header, and Hong Jeong-Ho saw another attempt cleared off the line as China defended stoutly.
The lone flare-up came when Korea’s Hwang Hee-Chan lashed out at a prone Yin Hongbo in the final minutes, and it was ultimately a deserved win for Lippi’s well-marshalled team.
China will now play war-torn Syria away on Tuesday with renewed confidence, knowing another victory could put them in the hunt for third place in the group and a play-off berth.
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