Chinese media on Wednesday heralded their national team’s first-ever entry into the Asian Cup soccer final, where it faces a potentially explosive battle against defending champion Japan.
“Charge! Champions, victory is unstoppable,” the Sports Youth newspaper said in a red and black front page headline.
“Excellent! Haan pledges to take the championship and create history,” the newspaper Titan Sports said on its cover, referring to China’s Dutch-born coach Arie Haan.
China has defeated Japan just twice in their last ten meetings, with Japan prevailing 3-2 at the last Asian Cup in 2000 and 2-0 in their most recent match last year.
Japan won the tournament in 1992 and 2000, while China’s best finishes were third place in 1976 and 1992.
Yet China has a huge home advantage in its legions of noisy supporters.
Chinese fans have booed Japan throughout the tournament in an expression of continuing Chinese resentment over Japan’s brutal World War II occupation of their country.
The jeers prompted Asian Football Confederation secretary Peter Vellapan on Tuesday to urge Chinese fans to show restraint.
“By all means support team China, but please be sporting to Japan,” Vellapan said.
The comments weren’t reported Wednesday in China’s mainstream media.
China advanced to the final with a 4-3 penalty shootout win Tuesday against a ten-man Iran after tying 1-1 in regulation time.
Iran, which won the tournament three times during the 1960s and ‘70s, will play third place on Friday against underdog Bahrain, which fell 4-3 to Japan in the other semifinal at the eastern city of Jinan.
China’s joy was tempered somewhat by the loss of injured star forward Hao Haidong, China’s most consistent scorer, who left the game after a collision with Iranian goalkeeper Ebrahim Mirzapour and defender Jalal Kameli that left him bleeding from the head.
Hao had set up China’s first goal with a pass to Shao Jiayi. Minutes later, a diving Mizapour landed on him in front of the goal, opening a cut on Hao’s head with his boot and twisting his neck and back. Hao was given five stitches and put in a neck brace, telling reporters he was unsure whether he’d make Saturday’s final.