China and South Korea reached the Asian Cup last 16 knockout round on Friday with wins over the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan respectively.
Marcello Lippi’s China side negotiated a potentially tricky clash with the Azkals thanks to a pair of high quality strikes from Wu Lei and a late header from Yu Dabao to seal a 3-0 win and guarantee a top two finish in Group C.
“The victory is, of course, very important, however the team’s performance is just as important,” said Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning coach Lippi.
“I hope we can continue in this manner because once you have confidence in yourselves you know you can play against any opponent in Asia.”
Wu put China in front five minutes before the break with an instinctive effort from the edge of the area and doubled the lead in the 66th when he volleyed home Hao Junmin’s free kick.
Yu then nodded the ball over the line with his first touch after coming off the bench 10 minutes from time when the Philippines, coached by former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, failed to clear a corner.
“It’s strange, I’m rather proud of our team even though we lost 3-0,” said Eriksson. “I think we’ve shown in two games we can play football.”
China and South Korea are to square off in the final Group C match on January 16 for the top spot, while Kyrgyzstan and Philippines will have nothing to play for, except for their first win of the 2019 tournament.
The Koreans, meanwhile, had defender Kim Min-jae to thank for their 1-0 victory over Kyrgyzstan which secures their place in the last 16 of the competition.
The Jeonbuk Motors centre half put Paulo Bento’s team in front four minutes before halftime when he headed Hong Chul’s corner through the legs of 21-year-old debutant goalkeeper Kutman Kadyrbekov.
South Korea, who are expected to be boosted by the arrival of star forward Son Heung Min from Tottenham as the tournament progresses, take on China in their final group game on January 16.
The two results followed Australia’s 3-0 win over Palestine earlier in the day.