China showed its class and handed the Philippines a 3-0 beating in their group stage match of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, sending the Azkals to their second straight defeat and closer to elimination.
Talented striker Wu Lei scored a brace while substitute Yu Dabao added one more just moments after coming on as the Dragons booked their slot in the knockout stage with their second win and pushed the Azkals to the brink.
The Dragons controlled the tempo in the opening minutes before the Azkals began to assert themselves more towards the middle of the first half. The Azkals' first real chance came in the 22nd minute when Patrick Strauss anchored a three-pronged attack and found Javier Patiño in the left flank. But the forward's attempt went straight to defender Feng Xiaoting.
China broke the ice in the 40th minute when Wu gathered a pass from Hao Junmin in the right flank, made a quick turn, and rifled the ball to the top left corner.
The Azkals pressed their attack towards the end of the first half, and Kevin Ingreso's volley in the first minute of added time had a chance but was tipped over the crossbar by Yan Junling.
Wu showcased his deft touch again when he doubled the lead in the 66th minute with a brilliant volley off a corner kick that just slipped through Michael Falkesgaard's hands. Fourteen minutes later, Dabao was handed a gift after the Azkals failed to clear a corner kick, heading it in unmarked from close range to seal the Philippines' fate.
"Once you go behind especially against a big, physical team like China, it's hard to create chances," Phil Younghusband said.
It was a big letdown for the Azkals after their spirited stand in their opening match against South Korea, where they dropped a close 0-1 decision. They created few chances in the second half, as playmaking was problematic in the midfield and that one extra pass was often missing.
"I think you could see a lot of players were tired especially after the tough game against South Korea," Younghusband noted.
The Azkals close out their Group C campaign on January 16 against the Kyrgyz Republic, which lost to South Korea 0-1, needing a big win and some luck to keep their flickering hopes alive. The four best third-placed teams from the six groups advance to the knockout stage.
Sven-Goran Eriksson made one change to his starting 11, putting in defender Carlie De Murga for midfielder Manny Ott.
Phil Younghusband came in at the 66-minute mark, just moments after Wu scored his second goal.
The 27-year-old Wu scored his 14th and 15th international goals for the Dragons in 61 caps.