World Cup qualifiers: China’s soccer fans satisfied despite narrow loss to regional rivals South Korea

China’s narrow 3-2 defeat to South Korea in a World Cup qualifier in Seoul on Thursday night was “acceptable”, according to the head of the country’s official fan club.

Jian Mangen, head of the “Team Dragon” supporters’ club, led a contingent of more than 3,000 Chinese fans to Seoul for the match.

Jian said more than 1,000 other supporters made the trip from China, and another 5,000 or so fans in the stadium were Chinese living in South Korea.

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He said the atmosphere in the 60,000-seat Seoul World Cup Stadium was superb but the national team’s effort “just acceptable”.

Jian said China’s overall standard of play did not match South Korea’s. “That’s why I thought before the match that it would not be too bad if it was a draw, or anything but a heavy loss,” he said.

China’s captain, Zheng Zhi, got the ball rolling for the South Koreans with an own goal early in the Group A match.

South Korea’s Lee Chung-yong of Crystal Palace headed home a second before Bundesliga player Koo Ja-cheol made it 3-0 midway through the second half.

But Hai Yu pulled a goal back for China in the 74th minute and Hao Junmin curled home a free kick two minutes later. China have managed just one win against South Korea in 30 official matches between the two countries since 1978.

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Before last night’s match, Chinese fans expressed modest hopes for the fixture, although they are keen to see their team make it through to the finals in Russia in 2018.

“No worse than 4-0. No red card. No injury,” one commenter said in an online post.

“I have seen enough cowardly defeats by our poor old national team,” another said. “For this squad I only hope they don’t lose us too much face with a humiliating defeat.”

National team manager Gao Hongbo said in the lead-up to the match that he hoped his squad would be inspired by the spirit of China’s Olympic champion women’s volleyball team, who were one of the underdogs at the Games in Rio de Janeiro last month.

“Everyone in Korean soccer thinks Chinese soccer players lack fighting spirit and we give up easily,” Gao said. “But I’m hoping this time we can show an improvement in this area.

“China’s women’s volleyball team won the Olympic gold medal as underdogs in Rio. They fought with solidarity, and realised all of their potential. They are the best role model for us, and we have been inspired greatly by them. Now it is our show.”

The Chinese side will head to Shenyang in Liaoningto play another qualifier against Iran on Tuesday.