NANNING, China, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Iceland scored two goals in the second half to beat China 2-0 on Tuesday in the curtain-raiser of the 2017 Gree China Cup International Football Championship held in the southern city of Nanning.
The event, launched by the Wanda Group and the Chinese Football Association, is an A-grade international event acknowledged by world football governing body FIFA. It is widely regarded as an important platform for the host team to hone their skills ahead of what remains a long-shot bid for Russia 2018.
Marcello Lippi's dream to give team China a good start to 2017 was dashed in the 64th minute, as Kjartan Finnbogasson kicked in a rebound after Bjorn Sverrisson's shot was blocked by Chinese goalkeeper Chi Wenyi. With two minutes remaining in regular time, Aron Sigurdarson doubled the lead from a counterattack with a curled effort into the bottom corner.
Iceland head coach Heimir Hallfrimsson conceded that, at least in the first half of the match, the Chinese team was a force to be reckoned with.
"The Chinese team played better in the first half. We seemed to be losing control of the game before halftime," he said. "Luckily we got the match back in the second half. We tried to slow the game down in the second half. We defended deep to give the Chinese team less space to play," he added.
"It worked. We made it easy for us to counterattack and both goals came from those tactics. I always thought before the match that the team who scored first would win the game, and I'm glad that it was us," he also remarked.
The first half saw the host team waste a few good chances. A header off Chinese captain Cai Huikang was saved by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson at the line in the 20th minute, and Yin Hongbo squandered a one-on-one occasion against the goalie in the 33rd minute.
"Our players were not in their best form, and most of them earned national caps for the first time," said China's head coach Lippi."They are way less experienced than the Icelandic players."
"Several players were so nervous that they forgot to save energy for the entire match. But overall, they have given what we asked for," Lippi pointed out.
China, whose last victory was in June 2016, a 4-2 win over Trinidad and Tobago in a friendly, will play the losers between Croatia and Chile for the third place of the China Cup on Saturday.
Wanda Group, a top sponsor of FIFA and instrumental in getting the China Cup off the ground, has been at the forefront of China's push to be a world football power.
"We hope that the China Cup will become a great platform for the Chinese national team to play against top-class teams in the world, and also a great opportunity to promote the development of the sports industry in China," Wanda Group President Wang Jianlin said during an earlier event to promote the tournament.
Wanda has also sealed a series of high profile sports investments to build up its sports business arm. It now owns a 20 percent stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid, has acquired the organizer of the Ironman Triathlon races, World Triathlon Corp, along with Swiss-based sports marketing firm Infront.
The inaugural China Cup was opened on Tuesday night in the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in an ebullient ceremony that featured ethnic Zhuang singing and dancing performances.