China’s star striker Wu Lei fired home a world-class double to end the Azkals Asian Cup dream with a 3-0 defeat.
The clear result came despite spirited early resistance from the Filipino underdogs in Abu Dhabi yesterday (Friday, January 11).
China, runners-up in 1984 and 2004, have secured six points from two games in Group C after previously beating Kyrgyzstan 2-1. They now have a guaranteed spot in the final 16.
China’s first chance against the Azkals did not come until the 32nd minute, Wu Xi fluffed a header from point-blank range.
But it was Wu Lei who got things moving just five minutes before half-time, with a shot from the edge of the box that found the far corner of the net.
The 27-year-old’s second — at 66 minutes — was even more impressive. He swivelled to volley a Hao Junmin free kick past goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard.
With the game effectively over, it fell to substitute Yu Dabao to add a third with his very first touch 10 minutes from the final whistle.
Azkals on the rise
Although the final score was an unambiguous defeat, it should be recalled that the last time the Azkals met China, in 2017, they were handed an 8-1 drubbing.
The team was also impressive in defeat in their first game of the match, when they held a world-class South Korean team to a narrow 1-0 victory.
The Azkals fighting spirit and sportsmanship on the pitch have attracted a legion of new fans in their basketball-obsessed home country and across the world.
They have also won praise for tidying their locker rooms before leaving the stadium, and leaving ‘thank-you’ messages to their hosts.