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Phnom Penh: China showed they will be serious contenders at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship on home soil after beating Japan 2-1 in a Group J qualifying tie at the National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on Sunday. 

China fully deserved the win as they were on top from the start, with Yang Liyu proving to be a thorn for Japanese defenders Itakura Kou and Yuta Nakayama.

China's industrious play was rewarded in the 39th minute when Wei Shihao put his side in front after deftly controlling a cross from Yao Junsheng before sidefooting home with his right from the edge of the box.

Buoyed by the goal, China attacked Japan in waves and doubled their lead in first half stoppage time when Deng Hanwen tapped in from close range after Shihao turned provider when he drove the ball into the box.

Japan came out roaring in the second half and Keita Endo reduced the deficit eight minutes into the restart after substitute Ren Komatsu’s heel flick was only parried away by the China keeper and fell kindly onto the waiting Endo's path.  

Japan, despite being reduced to 10 men when Ito Hiroki was sent off late into the match after a second yellow card, continued pressing but China - who had already qualified by virtue of hosting the Finals next year - held on to win the group on seven points.

Japan, on six points, now have to wait and see how the other groups finish to know their fate. 

Massimiliano Maddaloni (China Coach)

“First I would like to thank the players. From this match, we see we can have confidence to play in the tournament proper next year. I want to thank the fans for their support. Players gain confidence from this kind of a match and I hope this can help us to become one of the leading sides in Asia.”

Atsushi Uchiyama (Japan Coach)

“The players were really tired and in the first half we could not play our game. We had no aggressiveness. Our players only had a few good attempts. We played better in the second and after our goal, I had hoped we could catch China but unfortunately we couldn’t.”

Cambodia claimed third place in Group J as they wound down their participation in the AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers with a 1-0 win over the Philippines.

The margin of victory could been wider but Cambodia's Chreng Polroth saw his 29th minute penalty saved and the follow up blasted wide. 

Javier Gayoso was thwarted with his side's best chance 10 minutes after the restart. The forward, bounding down the left flank, cut inside but Cambodian keeper Um Sereirath stood tall and strong to parry away his effort.

Sok Samnang, who had threatened for large parts of the game, finally found the second a minute shy of the hour mark. Substitute Son Vandeth’s long range effort cannoned off a Philippines defender in the box and fell kindly onto the path of the No. 9 who blasted into a yawning goalmouth. 

Marlon Maro (Philippines Coach)

"We lost 1-0 from open play. There was an attempt and there was a missed clearance. Aside from losing the game, what is important is that we were able to play as a team. Now we have to go back home and prepare for the SEA Games and improve on our weaknesses."

Leonardo Vitorino (Cambodia Coach)

"I know the players were tired because we played a tough match today and also two tough matches against China and Japan. But I have told my players we can do more for the country. Not only the players but me also. We are working hard for the future and my players know we must do better."

Photos: AFC