Changsha: It seems that Feng Xiaoting excels each time China PR faces Korea Republic.
In 2010, the China and Guangzhou Evergrande defender featured prominently as they stunned the Taeguk Warriors 3-0, and ended their 32-year wait for victory against their neighbouring nemesis. And in the two sides' latest meeting last year in the ongoing Asian qualifying final round for the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018, Feng went on to impress throughout, initiating a move which yielded their second goal, as China came close to grabbing an away point.
Now with the two teams' second-leg looming large, it comes as no surprise that the 13-year Chinese international is looking to spring another surprise against the Koreans.
"We didn't play badly when we met them last time (despite defeat)," the 31-year-old told FIFA.com. ”They narrowly won the game but we had created chances of our own. However, we made mistakes and squandered our opportunities. You may say that we weren't lucky but it is a fact that they are a very good team in Asia."
“To be frank, Korea Republic are stronger than us," Feng added. "Their players are very good individually, and as a team they play well. If we can maintain our performance level and play with self-belief, we can take them by surprise."
K League Classic experience
Feng's confidence is not unfounded considering that he has plenty of knowledge about football in Korea Republic. He is one of the few Chinese players with K League Classic experience, having spent two seasons with the likes of Daegu and Jeonbuk Hyundai. He also won two AFC Champions League titles with Guangzhou, and on both occasions they swept past K League Classic sides en route to the championship.
"I know their players and am familiar with their game," said Feng, rating their chances against their arch-rivals, who have boasted a dominant head-to-head record against China with 20 wins from 33 previous meetings in all competitions. "They are very fast. Their switch from defence to attack is swift. And they play well as a unit. In the last meeting they took a 3-0 lead, but we didn't give up and scored two late goals nearly forcing them to a draw. Now we play at home, and we can play better than last time."
China’s match against Korea Republic can be viewed as a must-win for them. With just two points from five outings, Team Dragon languish at the bottom of the six-team group with their hopes hanging by a thread. With the competition already past the midway mark, Feng is aware that they should strive to win as many games as possible if they are to keep their qualification hopes alive.
“We haven’t got the results we want, and our chances are not so good," he said. "The competition has reached the second half. But there are still five matches to play, and we should focus on our play rather than the outcomes. If we go to the field with our best form, and if we play with more confidence, we can perform as well as we can.”
Steered by Lippi
China will re-unite with the Koreans under a new boss. Former FIFA World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi took over the side last October. Having guided Guangzhou to three domestic league titles and an Asian championship, Feng is hoping that the Italian manager will continue his magic touch with the Chinese national team this time.
He said: "Coach Lippi has plenty of knowledge about the Chinese players and Asian teams after coaching Guangzhou for several years. Under him, we showed improved play in the last match against Qatar despite failing to win. Lippi has done a lot in helping us mentally. He has urged us to feel strong. He encourages us to play the way we play with our respective clubs. The progress we have made under him is evident, although we won't become a different team overnight. It takes time."
Feng was named the new captain last March when China were on the brink of elimination in the previous qualifying round. Under former coach Gao Hongbo, Feng and Co won three matches out of three, including a 2-0 victory over Qatar to seal their return to Asia's final stage of World Cup qualifying in dramatic fashion. "We ended a 15-year wait to return to Asia's final qualifying round. But perhaps it had been too long since we had competed in top-level continental competitions, so we didn't begin well. We were too tense," he reflected.
With all but nothing to lose, though, Feng was adamant that they will give their all as they aim to revive their fortunes. "World Cup qualifying is unlike any other competition. It is the most important competition in Asia, so we won't give up without a fight. Of course, I want very much to go to the World Cup next year in Russia. It is possibly my last World Cup qualifying campaign, because I will be 37 by the 2022 World Cup. I am not young, but I am in my prime now, both physically and mentally. I am prepared and I hope we won't let the chances slip away this time around.”
Sources: FIFA.com, FIFA/Getty Images