Manchester United fans will be aware of the name Dong Fangzhou. The striker has been on the books of the Premier League champions for four years, but has featured only once league competition. He is probably fondly recalled in Antwerp of Belgium, for whom he scored 34 times in 70 appearances.
However, his name will be well known across the broad land of China this evening, as his 87th minute header gave the Olympic hosts a share of the spoils against a robust New Zealand side.
Chen Tao, impressive in his substitute role, crossed from the right to find the 6’3 Dong, who glanced a perfectly placed header beyond Jacob Spooner in the All-Whites’ goal.
Jeremy Brockie had give New Zealand a 52nd minute lead with a rifling half-volley following good work from Chris Henderson, but ten-man New Zealand could not hold out in the face of incessant Chinese pressure.
Steven Old was handed his marching orders just before half-time for acquiring two frivolous bookings, and it was the lack of manpower and not ability, at the heart of the Kiwi defence that allowed China to claim a point from a highly entertaining encounter.
There was no starting place for Dong Fangzhou in China’s opening Group C fixture. Instead Han Peng and Gao Ling were preferred up front by manager Yin Tiesheng. However, the 23-year-old Dong was to have a considerable say in this encounter.
China made the early running; they were supported by 60,000 odd supporters in the Shenyang Stadium, some 600km away from the Olympic host city of Beijing.
Within five minutes, the Chinese almost raced into an early lead. Han Peng crashed a header against the crossbar with Spoonley in no man’s land.
The All-Whites found it difficult to settle into a pattern, even with a side containing players of Premier League and Champions League experience. Ex-Fulham midfielder Simon Elliot had the Oly-White’s best chance just before half time; his curling free-kick was just the wrong side of Qiu Shengjiong’s upright.
By that stage however, New Zealand were already reduced to ten men. After incurring a booking just before the half hour, defender Steven Old contrived to have himself sent-off for a needless second yellow card. He handled the ball instead of controlling it and was given his marching orders by referee Martin Vasquez.
China captain Zheng Zhi fired the resultant free-kick wastefully over.
The Chinese found space throughout the first half down their left-flank. New Zealand right-back Aaron Scott was found wanting as Cui Peng continually caused problems.
As New Zealand struggled to find an offensive foothold in the game, their star striker Chris Killen of Celtic cut an increasingly isolated figure, more so after Old’s dismissal when New Zealand coach Stu Jacons opted to deploy another defender in Michael Boxall to shore up the defence just before half-time.
New Zealand presented an altogether more robust prospect after half-time and edged into a the lead within seven minutes of the re-start.
Although China had made all the early running, the Kiwis took the lead with a well-worked counter attacking strike.
Craig Henderson controlled a high ball majestically on his chest with his back to goal. He flicked a through ball over his head which found Jeremy Brockie running behind Feng Xiaoting and clear on goal. The Hawke’s Bay United star made no mistake with an emphatic finish - on the bounce inside the near-post.
The Chinese had trouble adjusting to Henderson’s presence further up the pitch in the second half. The physical presence of the Dartmouth College student caused problems for the China back-line, as New Zealand brought more supporting players into attacks. Chris Killen had a low free-kick saved after 65 minutes after outstanding hold-up play from Henderson.
However, the Chinese, urged on by their vociferous compatriots, attempted to fashion a reply. They pressed their opponents into their own half but could not break the last line of resistance.
Ryan Nelsen of Blackburn Rovers was forced into making a terrific intervention just after the hour when Zheng Zhi attempted a cut back into the six-yard area for Jiang Ning.
Ning, introduced as a substitute, had another great opportunity for the hosts shortly after; his deflected half volley rattled the crossbar as the All-Whites had another lucky escape.
Fellow substitute Chen Tao, impressive and lively after his introduction, beat Ian Hogg all ends up with a fantastic first touch on the right wing, his run was not complimented by his shot from a narrow angle, which trickled wide.
Dong Fangzhou was eventually summoned from the bench as the Chinese pressed for a later equaliser to get their Olympic campaign off to a good start, and he made the best possible impression on the game.
Chen Tao’s left footed cross from the right found Dong in the box, who glanced a fantastic header high into the far corner to secure a draw.
It was the deftest of touches from the ex-Antwerp star, and one which had 60,000 Chinese supporters in ecstasy.
China: Qiu Shengjiong- Tan Wangsong, Yuan Weiwei, Li Weifeng, Feng Xiaoting - Zhou Haibin, Zheng Zhi, Cui Peng, Hao Junmin (Chen Tao 57’)- Gao Lin (Jiang Ning 55’), Han Peng (Dong Fangzhou 79’)
New Zealand: Spoonley - Scott (Tinkler 84’), Nelsen, Jenkins (Boxall 42’), Old, Hogg - Peverley (van Rooyen 80’), Henderson, Brockie, Elliot - Killen.
China: Li Weifeng 87’
New Zealand: Brockie 53’
China: Zhou 24’, Li 25’, Feng Xiaoting 45’, Yuan 90’
New Zealand: Killen 25’, Old 28’, Old 38’- SENT OFF, Hogg 90’, Brockie 90’
Martin Vasquez (URU)