Liu Haofan: We Lost Because We Couldn’t Keep Up

The China U20 National Youth Team suffered a comeback 1-2 loss in their opening game in the U20 Asian Cup against Japan the day before yesterday. However, the national youth team were off to a decent start. Liu Haofan, 20,  used a chance from a corner kick to help the national youth team take a 1-0 lead, only for the goal to be officially confirmed as an own goal and therefore missed a first goal in the main competition. After the training session yesterday, The Zhejiang Professional centre-back was interviewed by reporters and said that he regretted not that the goal was not credited to him, but that the team conceded 2 goals in the second half due to physical exhaustion.

Q: In yesterday’s match, you helped the national youth team to start well and put the team 1-0 up, but in the end goal was not counted in your name. What did you think of that?

Liu Haofan: Yesterday’s goal was scored from a corner kick, a tactic we have rehearsed time and again. When we had the corner kick yesterday, I also ran into the spot, so I should say I just dabbed it and changed the path of the ball a little bit, and then the centre-back on the other side headed it in, so it should be considered an own goal. It’s only natural that I didn’t get the credit.

Q: After yesterday’s game, the team’s tactics were fine and the players were quite determined in executing them on the field. As a starting player, do you think that was the reason why the team started the game well?

Liu Haofan: Yes, we were determined to implement the tactical arrangements before the match, and it worked. Before the game against Japan, we had seen them play against many European teams and we knew a lot about the Japanese team, their individual ability and overall coordination are very strong. We also had our own strategy to deal with them. The coach’s pre-match plan was for us to try to compress the space in the middle, drive them to the two sides and reduce their activities in the middle. I think we carried out the coach’s pre-match plan in that respect.

Q: In the second half, you conceded two goals in a short span of four or five minutes, and both of them were crosses from the left side of the field.

Liu Haofan: These two goals were conceded because we had a problem in our own defence, that is, we didn’t keep an eye on the player in the middle when they crossed. During our training in Europe, we have been practising how to keep an eye on the players in the middle of the field when the opponent passes in. In yesterday’s game, we didn’t do a good job in this area and conceded a goal because of two mistakes we made.

Q: When you conceded the goal, did it have anything to do with the fact that we were at our physical limit?

Liu Haofan: It definitely had something to do with it, because the way our team plays requires a lot of mental strength, concentration and overall focus. Also, the game was already more than 60 minutes in and we were almost at our physical limit, so our concentration must have dropped a bit.

Q: The key thing is that their wingers and attackers who caught the passes were all players who came on as substitutes shortly after the second half and were in pretty good physical shape.

Liu Haofan: Right! Another thing is that the manager actually told us before the match that Japan might play a double centre forward, one of whom is physically strong and has height. This player was the No.18 player who came on in the second half of yesterday’s match. In fact, the reason why I feel sorry is that in the various warm-up games we played in Europe, the opponents were basically this type of strikers and we did a good job in defence and were able to defend. Still, it’s probably because of the drop in fitness that we lost concentration and then conceded two goals.

Q: After conceding two goals and going down 1-2, you still had chances to counterattack, but I don’t think it was particularly effective.

Liu Haofan:  I think it’s because Japan played with more maturity. They were behind in the game, but they still played so normally and felt confident that they could come back and kept playing the same way. When we changed players and tried to make a last-minute push to get back into the game, they were more unified and they all pulled back and tried to hold on to the win. So they were still playing better than us.

Q: Personally, you weren’t a starter in the qualifiers, but you played in some of the matches. This time, after reaching the final stage of the tournament, you became a starter, primary centre-back even. What exactly happened during this period? Can you give a brief description?

Liu Haofan: During the qualifiers, I didn’t play as a starter because my physical condition or other aspects didn’t meet the requirements of the head coach, and I also felt that I wasn’t at my best yet. This time, I’ve been preparing for the final stage of the tournament, and I’ve been paying more attention to my physical condition and other aspects of my game.

Q: The first game is now over and there are two more group games to come. What are you thinking about?

Liu Haofan: The next match against Saudi Arabia is definitely a must-win, and the match against Kyrgyzstan is definitely a must-win. I don’t think I need to say much about that.

Q: For Saudi Arabia, we were in the same group in the qualifying rounds, have you seen any recent footage of their matches?

Liu Haofan: Among the three opponents in this group, we know them well because we have played against them. I think the coach will study their latest situation and give us a detailed analysis and deployment from today.

Q: Have you watched the Saudi Arabia match against Kyrgyzstan yesterday?

Liu Haofan: We haven’t watched it yet, we just finished our own match and what we need most is to recover to prepare for the next match.

Q: You didn’t score against Japan, do you want to score in the next game against Saudi Arabia?

Liu Haofan: I definitely want to, and I think I have a chance because we have set-piece chances, and I just want to take advantage of them.