The Chinese national team lost last Thursday 1-2 against Uzbekistan, but I will leave this game behind and instead focus on the game this past Tuesday against Holland.
I was at Workers Stadium in Beijing to watch the game live, and it was very interesting to be there and feel the atmosphere - also around the stadium. Before the match, all the fans were singing and cheering on their way to the stadium, and inside I saw a fantastic view and a party night for all Chinese football fans, who were proud to invite a big team like Holland to China.
It was a night of football, and I know how many foreign clubs and scouts represented at the stadium, so everything was set up to a top performance by the players of China.
Unfortunately the game was destroyed by Qin Sheng after just 13 minutes. What a horrible decision and stupid challenge and a clearly red card. When a player shows this kind of immatureness - as a coach, I would reconsider if he should play next time. This was a friendly game, but imagine if he did it in a final qualification game in the future where China could go to the World Cup. You can’t have players on the pitch, you can’t trust.
And furthermore, if you have to play 10 against 11 in 75 minutes - a possession strong side like Holland is the worst enemy. They can pass the ball around and keep possession in 75 minutes if they chose to do, so the odds were extremely difficult for China.
Actually I analyzed that China had a good start in the game. They opened with a solid pressure, trying to stress the Holland back 4 and forced in some situations Holland to play an early long ball, which is not their style, so the plan looked good from the beginning. And the players seemed fit, fast and playing free with creativity.
Gao Lin was without doubt the best Chinese player this evening. I always liked him, but this evening in Beijing, he showed that he can perform and use his skills against some of the best players in the World. He was a good early station in the Chinese building up phase, strong in the body he could keep the ball with the back to the Dutch goal, and he was one of the only Chinese players, who had success when he tried to attack 1:1.
In modern football 1:1 is together with decision making and constant orientation some of the most important skills, and Gao Lin showed, he has some of it against top players as well. Also Zhang Linpeng after a difficult start against Arjan Robben showed some potential 1:1. The rest of the Chinese player seemed overmatched and without the necessary strength, speed or confidence to win their personal duels against the Dutch players, and with only 10 players, Holland could win the game without spending too much energy as well.
But there were some positive signs in the Chinese performance this night in the capital. The offense seemed faster and with more movement than seen in a long time, and Gao Lin showed he has an international level. The Chinese team also started the game with a lot of energy and the passing was very good moving up the pitch. And you could feel the support from the fans. They liked what they saw.
The main issue for Camacho and China is still the lack of potential goal scorers. Gao Lin played the lonely striker, and he is a type who likes to move around and drop out to the two sides as well, which means there is no striker in the box. So Camacho needs to work on bringing in more and new players in the box, when Gao Lin moves away.
The wingers Yu Hai and Sun Ke are good players, fast and safe in the passing phase, but not typical goal scorers. And they don’t like to move into the box because of the “traffic” in this area, so that leaves zero players for China in the penalty box, where 75 % of all goals in the World of football are scored.
So if the team doesn’t have a typical striker, you need to change your style or offensive movement, so you create the situations where the team becomes dangerous. I have had this challenge in Denmark in the past, and it’s not easy to solve, but big teams like FC Barcelona does it. They play with a “fake striker”, fake number 9 like Cesc Fabregas and then he moves away like Gao Lin and the entire offense starts to move and rotate to find, create and use space. So this is what Camacho should spend all this time on.
And then Camacho should still consider if he is using the right players. Yu Hai is a fine player, but he is not a goal scorer and maybe Wu Lei would be a better active for China right now, because he is dangerous, more direct and have showed in the CSL that he can score goals from all kind of angels and even with the head.
The two Chinese full backs did an average performance. Especially Zhang Linpeng had problems in the beginning 1:1 defense and also committed a penalty, because he reacted to slow on Robben’s move. But as a coach, you don’t always look for mistakes. You look for if a player can higher his standard during a game and learn from the mistakes, and with this aspect in mind, Zhang Linpeng did a solid game.
The issue is playing against top players with speed like Robben that if you wait for his move – it is always too late, so you have to read the game just like a game of chess. See the next move before it happens and then act faster and before the opponent. And Linpeng started doing this after 15 minutes and had solid 75 minutes after this – and played three positions during the game as well.
Of course we also need to be fair and remember that Robben is one of the best wingers in the World. He just won the Champions League final for Bayern Munich and I have seen players like Sergio Ramos and other big names have just as many troubles with Robben as Linpeng had, so the Evergrande defender probably had the hardest job this night in Beijing.
Now China play Saturday again, and hopefully we will see the same offensive movement, more players in the penalty box when the crosses are coming and some more game time for the young and hungry players like Wu Lei. China can’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup, so China need to think long term and prepare the team, who can make the qualification in 2018.