China earned outright top position and guaranteed progression from Group B while proving their Asian Cup credentials after defeating Uzbekistan 2-1 at Brisbane Stadium.
Odil Akhmedov scored within the first half hour when he cut inside and earned a lucky deflection of the boot of Mei Fang to send the ball out of Wang Dalei’s reach in front of a sea of red shirts.
China were full of attacking intent, but Alain Perrin’s side couldn’t hold back the well-organised transitions of the Uzbekis across the first half.
The best chance for the Chinese came towards half time, when Wu Lei managed to cross a short ball over the defence, but it narrowly evaded Gao Lin’s head.
China came out in the second half attempting to outnumber Uzbekistan in the midfield by pushing their wide players higher up the pitch. It paid off in the first ten minutes, when an attacking move fell to the feet of Wu Xi, who contorted to ensure his strike would hit the back of the net.
Substitute Sun Ke made an immediate impact after coming on, darting towards the box and shooting past Ignatiy Nesterov in goals with a shot that created an eruption of noise in the stands.
The Uzbeks were allowed back into the game in the 70 minute mark, with China dropping back to absorb some pressure from their high tempo change of style, but the East Asians still managed to create chances.
The most notable was Zhang Linpeng’s effort inside the box, finding space through poor marking to attempt a volley, but sending the ball over the crossbar.
Wu Lei then found a break in the 80th minute after winning the ball back at the defensive line to run one-on-one at Nesterov, but the goalkeeper’s reactions were enough to push Wu Lei wide and miss the target.
China will look to complete a flawless group stage when they face North Korea on January 18 in Canberra, while Uzbekistan will face second-place Saudi Arabia in Melbourne on the same day with Group B’s second quarterfinal spot on the line.