TIANJIN, China - China's road to 2010 World Cup was almost blocked here on Saturday when they lost 1-0 to Qatar at home in a crucial Asian Zone Group A qualifier.
Sebastian's penalty gave the host today a fatal blow and made the Qataris stay within reach of runaway leaders Australia in Group A.
China's midfielder Zheng Zhi (front right) and Qatar's Talal Al Boushi (left) compete for the ball during their Asian Zone Group A qualifier of the 2010 World Cup in Tianjin of North China June 7, 2008. [Xinhua]
"We played well in the first half and we created a string of chances. But the penalty is the turning point." said Vladimir Petrovic, the head coach of China.
"It's a regret we couldn't translate the supremacy to goals and I fell sorry to see my boys crying after the match. But we played more creative than the opponent and it's the penalty and referee that changed the result," the Serb added.
At the "Water Drop" Olympic Centre Stadium on Saturday night, China chief coach Dujkovic fielded a balanced 4-2-3-1 staring lineup with captain Zheng Zhi took the playmaking role in the attacking midfield while two fast under-23 players Hao Junmin and Zhu Ting made indefatigable runs down the wings to create scoring chances with width.
The Chinese focused on attacking from the very beginning when the central forward Gao Lin could have nearly opened the scoring with an acrobatic volley in the first minute, but only saw the ball sliding past the post.
However, the visitor seemed to fully prepare for the expected pressure and made a dream start based on their sharp counterattack after 13 minutes. The Uruguay-born striker Sebastian Soria cashed a controversial penalty.
China played more aggressively after the interval when Dujkovic sent in two other fast wingers and made a final stake on the two sides.
However, the host felt a little impatient to create chances through the midfield and relied more on the right wing to pass the ball directly in the box over and over.
The Qataris were clearly wary of the routine, with their captain, the Senegal-born central defender Abdulla Obaid dominating air space in the box.
"We did a very good job today to beat such a strong opponent. Though we still had many mistakes in the match, I made the right decesion and applied the right strategy," said the Qatari coach Jorge Fossati.
"Our players fight to the last minute on their stamina. We are set to win this match and we'll go further," added the Uruguayan.
It was China's first defeat after three successive draws and the third place meant nothing as only the top two of the group could qualify.
China had to face the Asian Cup champions Iraq and regional powerhouse Australia later this month. Even if they could achieve two straight wins, the fate would be held in Qataris' and Aussies' hands.
But Petrovic did not concede that his side already had no chance.
"We still have two matchs in front of us. We will fight to the end no matter what the result will be. I hope all the Chinese people who love national team will stand by us."
Before today's duel, China tied Iraq 1-1 and Qatar 0-0 on road and drew Australia 0-0 at home.
Top two teams from each of the five groups will progress to the final round of Asian zone qualification tournament.