|China coach Gao celebrates with midfielder Yu Hai after the second match of Asian Cup 2011 in Doha [AFP]
A China team facing pressure from an impatient public at home got off to a dream start in the Asian Cup by beating freshly-crowned Gulf Champions Kuwait to go joint top of Group A in Doha.
The result gives an extra headache to hosts Qatar after their 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan in the tournament opener the previous night.
Second-half goals from defender Zhang Linpeng and midfielder Deng Zhuoxiang gave China three points at Al Gharafa stadium on Saturday after the dismissal of defender Mesad Nada after 36 minutes left them exposed at the back.
He was shown an immediate red card by Australian referee Ben Williams after sticking a foot into the groin of China striker Yang Xu as both fell to the ground by the touchline.
Xu was carried off on the electronic cart, while Nada, after writhing on the ground, walked off disconsolately holding his head in his hands.
The Kuwaitis were unlucky not to have taken the lead after 49 minutes when the ball appeared to cross the line from Bader Al Mutwa's effort before being gathered safely by China goalkeeper Yang Zhi.
Despite their dominance in Olympic sports, China, the world's most populous country, have never won this competition.
They were runners-up in 1984 and 2004.
Coach Gao Hongbo though has seen his side steadily improve to win the East Asian title last year and this result will give them the belief they can make into the final stages.
But poor performances on the big stage – such as the home Asian Games in Guangzhou last November – have left China's football-mad fans less than happy.
"The first match is always very tough, very hard," said Gao.
"For the first 30 minutes the Kuwait team did very well, but after that our team controlled the match.
"The four teams in Group A are very close, so any result can help. We will have to wait until the last game to see who will qualify."
Kuwait had a strong penalty appeal rejected in the first half and coach Goran Tufegdzic was critical of referee Williams in his post-match press conference.
"I don't want to make comments about referees but lots of people said he made many, many mistakes," said the Serbian coach.
"I think the relevant commission will have to look at the match and give a punishment for this referee."
Their opening goal came after China weathered a period of Kuwait pressure before going on the attack.
The ball fell to Linpeng whose sweetly struck shot with the outside of his left boot from the edge of the box took a deflection off a defender leaving Yaqoub Al Taher stranded in goal.
Zhuoxiang doubled the lead with a well-struck inswigning free-kick nine minutes later, giving China all three points.