Thomas Bjorn’s side went down 3.5-2.5 in today’s fourballs at Glendower Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur despite heading into the match as red-hot favourites.
English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey had put the first point on the board with a 4&3 victory over Byeong Hun An and Kiradech Aphibarnrat in match one.
That was exactly the start Casey was looking for as he made his return to the European team fold after a 10-year absence.
But Team Asia, led by Arjun Atwal, hit back by putting two points on the board in quick succession.
Yuta Ikeda and Gavin Green beat Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick 2&1 before Henrik Stenson and rookie Alex Levy fell to Sunghoon Kang and Poom Saksansin 5&4.
Another all-English pairing, Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton, then put Europe back on level terms with a 5&4 win over Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P Chawrasia in the anchor match.
But, after Alex Noren and Paul Dunne had lost to Hideto Tanihara and 18-year-old Phachara Khongwatmai by two holes, Li and Nicholas Fung halved their match with Scottish Open champion Rafa Cabrera Bello and Bernd Wiesberger to hand Asia a one-point lead at the end of the opening day.
Team Europe led in that last match standing on the 18th tee but a brilliant birdie at the last from Li stopped Bjorn’s men from heading into the weekend on level terms.
“When I look at the scoring in the groups, I feel like, yeah, a couple of guys might feel like they should have done better but, in general, there was a lot of good golf from our side,” said Bjorn.
“It was nice to see Paul (Casey) come back into the fold of European golf and go out and being determined at delivering a performance that’s just world class.
“I suspect that we’ll go out tomorrow and be ready to play, and foursomes is a very different game.
“We are looking forward to the challenge ahead, but we are in a position where we feel like we knew we could find ourselves in, and we knew this Asian team is very strong and very much ready to play.”
The Dane, who is using this event as preparation for Europe’s bid to try and win back the Ryder Cup in France later in the year, added: “I learn something every second of the day when I’m a captain, but I don’t only do that here. I do that every day and I talk to a lot of people.
“Being captain is something that is a role that you take on and it’s a role that once they start playing golf, you realise that things are very much out of your hands.
“You can do all the preparation and put everything in place, but it’s for them to go and play the golf.”
Friday fourballs (Team Europe names first)
Paul Casey & Tommy Fleetwood bt Byeong-Hun An (Kor) & Kiradech Aphibarnrat
(Tha) 4 & 3
Thomas Pieters (Bel) &Matthew FitzpatrickLost to Gavin Green (Mys) & Yuta Ikeda
(Jap) 2 & 1
Henrik Stenson (Swe) & Alexander Levy (Far) Lost to Poom Saksansin (Tha) &
Sung-hoon Kang (Kor) 5 & 4
Ross Fisher Tyrrell Hatton bt S.S.P Chawrasia (Ind) & Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 5 &
Paul Dunne & Alex Noren (Swe) Lost to Hideto Tanihara (Jap) & Phachara
Khongwatmai (Tha) 2 down
Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) & Rafael Cabrera-Bello Tied to (Spa) Haotong Li (Chn) &
Nicholas Fung (Mys)
9.35am Stenson and Fleetwood v Chawrasia and Lahiri
9.45am Casey and Hatton v An and Aphibarnrat
9.55am Levy and Cabrera Bello v Green and Ikeda
10.05am Fitzpatrick and Pieters v Kang and Saksansin
10.15am Dunne and Noren v Tanihara and Khongwatmai
10.25am Fisher and Wiesberger v Fung and Li