Honours even after China vs Korea quadruple

It was, so the Chinese media were saying, the Asian equivalent of the recent Italy vs England Champions League last 16 series. 

In the space of roughly 24 hours, four Chinese teams did battle with four South Korean sides in the group stages of the Asian Champions League.

It's not only China and Korea who have an entire quartet of representatives in the expanded continental competition along with Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and UAE. It is not democratic or balanced, but it doesn't pretend to be. It is all about raising standards.

As far as China is concerned, Korea sets the standards in Asian football, so much so that there is even a syndrome among Chinese footballers which is roughly translated as 'Koreaphobia' - and the Koreans absolutely love it.

This stems from the fact that in 27 games at national team and Olympic level, China has never defeated its much smaller neighbour to the east.

The latest loss was in February 2008 in the East Asian Cup in Chongqing. China were leading 2-1 with little time remaining, but ended up losing 3-2.

"Koreaphobia lives on" read the headlines in Seoul, while the Chinese had to lick their wounds and bide their time again.

South Korea topple China again 

The fear is less apparent at club level, but there is still an inferiority complex.

Chinese Super League clubs have occasionally tasted victory against their K-league equivalents but not often, and not enough for Korean fans to stop looking down at the Middle Kingdoms version of the beautiful game.

One Korean who wants a stop to this is Beijing Guoan head coach Lee Jang-soo. Lee is Korean and ahead of his team's encounter in the Korean industrial city of Ulsan, he told his players that there was nothing to be scared of.

"I have been in China for a long time," he said. "I know something about Chinese and Korean football. Because of their poor history, Chinese players might think too much of the opposition when they met a Korean team but is there so much distance between them and us?

"As long as we realise that Korean players don't have three legs and have two like us, we will be OK."

Such inside information didnt help as a poor Beijing lost 1-0 at Ulsan, a team that has been struggling. Beijing vice-president Luo Ning was angry.

"I can say nothing about this match," he said. "I saw just defending again and again. Both the coach and his players did something wrong. We have invested a lot of money." Luo ensured a frosty flight home by demanding a meeting with the coach back in the Chinese capital.

Luo would not have been too comforted to learn that bitter rivals Shanghai Shenhua pulled China back on level terms. The game with Suwon Bluewings was eagerly awaited as Li Weifeng, the former Shanghai star and Chinese captain, returned to his homeland with the Korean team.

As he had promised, Li scored but to no avail as Shanghai won 2-1.

"Li Weifeng is Chinese, and Shanghai is his former club. So we can say he headed an own goal tonight. Haha" joked Shanghai owner Zhu Jun.

"It is a very important match and I told them we must win tonight. They did it and we now have confidence to pass the group stage."

Shanghai Shenhua celebrate

Shandong Luneng defeated FC Seoul 2-0, while Tianjin Teda lost 1-0 at Pohang Steelers in the remaining China vs Korea clashes.

So 2-2 at half-time between the Chinese Super League and the K-League. C-League teams had fought hard to win at home but had been disappointing away. "Why do Chinese teams never try to win when they play in Korea?" an unhappy Titan Sports Reporter asked me.

While it was a rhetorical question, I was reluctant to say anything.

Much to my surprise, my casual and brief chat with him 24 hours earlier had appeared on a half-page spread of one of China's biggest-selling newspapers the next morning in the form of a lengthy interview.

At least I was in good company. The paper did the same with Luis Figo a few years ago when he came to Beijing with Real Madrid.

Figo could only smile when he found out, and thats good enough for me.

VIDEO: Watch Asian Champions League highlights on the VPlayer now

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