South Korea drop points against Syria
CHINA’S World Cup hopes brightened on Tuesday when they held heavyweights Iran 0-0 and their Group A rivals South Korea slipped up in an embarrassing stalemate against war-ravaged Syria.
Defeat to Asia’s top-ranked side would have dented China’s hopes of reaching only their second World Cup, but in the end it was a close game in Shenyang.
China’s point, their first of Asia’s final qualifying round, gives them renewed hope in the group. Their cause was also helped by South Korea’s travails in Malaysia, Syria’s temporary ‘home’ base, as they missed out on what had seemed like a certain three points.
China have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002, but qualifying for Russia 2018 would be a significant statement for a country which aims to become a global football power.
There were encouraging signs in last week’s 3-2 defeat to South Korea, and Iran, Asia’s top-ranked side, would have held few fears for Gao Hongbo’s men in front of a partisan, red-shirted home crowd.
A dire first half was more notable for its fouls than its goalmouth action as both sides struggled to gain momentum on a poor pitch.
But China attacked with renewed intent after the break and it was a different spectacle in the second half as the game opened up.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh should have netted for Iran, but he blazed a glorious chance over while Dutch-based Zhang Yuning was denied by Morteza Pouraliganji’s desperate block.
Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand smothered at the feet of Wu Lei and Chinese substitute goalkeeper Gu Chao saved sharply in the final minute to ensure their first point in the group.
Defeat to Carlos Queiroz’s team would have slashed China’s odds of reaching the World Cup.
South Korea will be kicking themselves after their slip-up against Syria in Seremban, Malaysia, denied them the chance to seize control of the group.
Son Heung-Min missed the game to return to his club, Tottenham Hotspur, and coach Uli Stielike may regret letting him go after a toothless performance with just two shots on target.
Stielike was unhappy with the way Syria tried to slow the game down, but said his side had to shoulder the blame for failing to break them down.
“It was tough to deal with the time-wasting,” Stielike said. “But in the end it was our fault for failing to score.”