Kunming: Hosts China failed to take the opportunities that came their way as they drew 0-0 with Qatar to stay rooted at the bottom of Group A after their FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian qualifying match on Tuesday night.
Despite the lions’ share of possession and numerous shots on goal, China could not unlock the Qatari defence in Marcello Lippi’s first game in charge.
China now have just two points to show from five games in this final round of qualifying, while Qatar are just one spot ahead in the table with five points.
“Our team have done a good job and I told them so in the dressing room,” said Lippi. “They should be satisfied about themselves. What we were short of today was a bit of luck.
“We had known before this match that our hope of qualifying to the World Cup in Russia was a very small one and it will be even more difficult after this game. After today’s match, I want to tell my players that they are not inferior to their opponents; we were able to play good football and proved that we were better than Qatar.
“We will do our best as long as we have a theoretical chance of qualifying. We are on the right track and that is what matters. If we keep performing like this, the hope is not dead yet.”
Jorge Fossati’s men had the first real opportunity of the game after being awarded a corner kick with five minutes on the clock.
The set piece delivery inititally looked to be mishit and appeared to be swinging out of the box, but a late-arriving Ibrahim Majid surprised the defence with a firm header back in.
The ball found Sebastian Soria (pictured below) right in front of the goal, but his backheel attempt was just wide of the goal post as the startled China defenders stood and watched.
Up the other end, Jiang Zhipeng’s hard free kick six minutes later was on target as it found its way through the Qatari wall, but it bounced off Saad Al Sheeb’s gloves and out for a corner kick.
The hosts were racking up the chances now but were not having much luck as Wu Lei ran on to a ball from Jiang, almost slipping while cutting past his marker before hitting the far post with his shot.
Unfortunately, the flag had gone up due to Zhang Yuning straying offside in the build up to Wu Lei’s shot on goal.
Jiang and Zhang then had further chances for China but did not manage to unduly trouble Al Sheeb before Mohamed Musa tested Yan Junling with a strike through a sea of legs just before the half that the goalkeeper was equal too.
The second half saw much of the same as Wu Xi met a Chinese corner kick with a firm diving header in the 55 minutes, only for Al Sheeb to push it onto the underside of the crossbar and back out before Musa hacked it away.
Yan was then called into action as he dove at full stretch to his right to keep substitute Rodrigo Tabata’s free kick out.
Lippi gave Shanghai Shenhua winger Cao Yunding his debut soon after and the 26-year-old almost made an instant impact as he took on several defenders in the Qatari box, but his final effort found the side netting.
The woodwork then denied China once again with ten minutes left as Zheng Zhi ran onto a half-cleared ball and shot from outside the box, but his effort came off a Qatari defender before striking the goal post.
That would prove to be as good as it got for the home supporters, as Qatar endured some nervy final moments to come away with a share of the spoils.
“We had a very tough first half and we couldn’t control the ball,” said Fossati. “The home team put us under a lot of pressure but our defence held strong and we improved our possession and attack in the second half.
“We didn’t have a great match today but we gained a point thanks to our defence. This point is important because we have lost three games already. The first half of the campaign is finished and now we will do our best in the second.
“If we can win against Uzbekistan, it will be a difference of six points. We think we have a big chance.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports