VAR drama as China held at Asian Cup, Australia cruise

Doha (AFP) – China were held 0-0 by Tajikistan in their opening game of the Asian Cup on Saturday after a VAR intervention but Australia overpowered India to launch their title charge.

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Zhu Chenjie thought he had headed in an undeserved winner for China with 10 minutes remaining in Doha when he rose to nod in from a corner.

But he and his teammates were left befuddled when VAR disallowed it, ruling former England youth defender Tyias Browning was interfering with play as he lurked on the goal-line in an offside position.

China could consider themselves lucky to get even a point from the match, having weathered Tajik pressure for most of it.

China were largely outplayed by the world’s number 106th-ranked team, who created numerous chances on their tournament debut but could not finish.

As the game entered its closing stages China showed some life, but Zhu’s header was their last real chance.

At the final whistle boos from the China fans rang out around the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium.

The goalless stalemate heaps more embarrassment on a country rocked by a football graft scandal at home.

It comes just days after former China coach Li Tie appeared on national television to confess he paid bribes to get the job and was involved in match-fixing.

The former Everton midfielder’s confession was part of a crackdown on football corruption that triggered the downfall of at least 10 senior Chinese Football Association officials.

Also in Group A, hosts and defending champions Qatar beat Lebanon 3-0 on Friday in the opening game of the tournament.

Japan's Yoshimi Yamashita became the first woman to officiate at an Asian Cup
Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita became the first woman to officiate at an Asian Cup © HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

Next up for China is Lebanon, while Tajikistan face a tough test against the hosts.

In Group B, Australia got their Asian Cup charge off to a good start, swatting aside a spirited India 2-0.

India defended stoutly and went into the break level.

But second-half goals from Jackson Irvine and Jordan Bos were enough to seal a match that provided no refereeing controversies for Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita as she became the first woman to officiate at an Asian Cup.

In front of a boisterous pro-Indian crowd, the Socceroos made hard work of the first half.

But Irvine opened the scoring just after the restart, the moustachioed midfielder driving home from 10 yards after India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu flapped at a cross.

Bos doubled Australia’s advantage shortly after the 70th minute, with the 2015 champions firmly in control.

The 21-year-old had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds, having come on as a substitute, when he knocked home Riley McGree’s low cross.

Jackson Irvine opened the scoring just after the restart
Jackson Irvine opened the scoring just after the restart © HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

Despite the win Australia coach Graham Arnold said his side — considered among the favourites for the tournament — had room for improvement.

“I can honestly say that we have got to improve a lot more than that,” said Arnold, who took Australia to the knockout phase of the World Cup in Qatar, where they lost 2-1 to eventual champions Argentina.

“One disappointment was set pieces… it’s something we need to improve on, and we will.”

Australia take on Syria on Thursday, when India face Uzbekistan.

Syria and Uzbekistan face off in Saturday’s late game.

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