Shanghai (AFP) – Marcello Lippi said his China side must improve and were lucky to snatch a late 1-0 home win over Uzbekistan to keep alive their slender World Cup hopes.
A Gao Lin penalty with six minutes left at an energised Wuhan Sports Center Stadium ensures that China’s wafer-thin chances of making Russia 2018 will go down to the final game on Tuesday at Qatar.
China will need to win in Doha and rely on other results going their way if they are to snatch an unlikely third place in Group A and with it a play-off spot.
“I always tell my players: when there is still a theoretical chance, we have no reason to give up. We should make every effort to achieve it,” Lippi, who masterminded Italy to a World Cup triumph in 2006, was quoted as saying by the state Xinhua news agency.
“From a professional view I admit that luck was on our side tonight. But the match also shows that the team still has a lot to do to improve,” added the Italian, tasked with revamping the fortunes of the perennially underachieving Chinese national team.
China went into the clash with Uzbekistan — who are still in the running for a first World Cup finals appearance — knowing only a win would do.
The hosts created several chances and were the better side but appeared to run out of ideas as the clock ticked down, only for defender Feng Xiaoting to win a soft penalty with just a few minutes left.
The 31-year-old forward Gao had the hopes of China’s 1.3 billion population resting on his shoulders.
But he kept his nerve to stroke in the penalty and China climbed off the bottom of Group A with just their second victory in nine games.
Lippi, 69, told his side to forget about the other teams in the group and just ensure they win in Qatar, who tumbled to the foot of the table with a 3-1 defeat to Syria.
“We need to concentrate on ourselves to improve in the following days, I have not compared with other teams,” Lippi said.
Iran top the group and have already qualified for Russia, with South Korea second on 14 points, followed by Syria and then the Uzbeks, both on 12. China have nine points.
Guangzhou Evergrande target man Gao said: “We created this victory through our own efforts.
“I felt pressure (for the penalty) because everyone’s hopes were resting on me.”
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