China's Wu Xi (front L) vies with Qatar's Mohammed Kasoala during their Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification match in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Nov. 15, 2016. [Photo: Xinhua]
Newly-appointed coach Marcello Lippi improved China's performance but failed to bring the team a desperately-needed win over Qatar in the last stage of the 2018 World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers in southwest China's Kunming on Tuesday.
The goalless tie left China lamenting for squandered chances and with only 2 points from five games. They are locked at the bottom of the 6-team Group A which includes South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Syria.
The top two of the group will advance to Russia 2018 directly after a home-and-away round-robin, and the third finisher will have a playoff against its counterpart in Group B.
"Before the match, I've already known that we have slim hope to go to Russia 2018 and now it's even harder," Lippi told a post-game press conference. "But I want to tell the players that they are no worse than any opponents in the group, which was proved tonight."
"We played better than Qatar but just lacked a bit luck. We deserved to win. We still have the chance and we'll fight to the end." the 68-year-old added.
The hosts, boasting 67 percent ball possession, dominated the game from the beginning with Wu Lei, Jiang Zhipeng and Zhang Yuning testing goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb consecutively.
But they neither converted opportunities into goals nor gave their new Italian coach a jubilant debut.
Jiang's pass found Zhang comfortably in the penalty but Zhang drove the ball inches wide of the near post while Wu Xi's header from Huang Bowen's corner was blocked onto the cross bar and captain Zheng Zhi's long drive hit the post.
In Qatar's seven shots in total, the best chance came in the fifth minute but Sebastian Suria's wicked back-heel kick slid just past the near post.
"We had a very tough first half and China gave us much pressure. We improved on possession and attacking in the second but one point is acceptable," said Qatar coach Jorge Fossati, who took the reins in September.
"The situation now in the group is very complicated. We are just two points above China.
"If China continue to play like this, they can even qualify directly. But China will play at Qatar for the final match, so sorry, they won't have chance," he said.
But Lippi disagreed with Fossati's prediction.
"Where did he get the confidence?" he retorted. "I don't think Qatar will have the chance (to beat us at home). But I do agree that we should qualify if we play like today."
Five of China's starting 11 are from the Guangzhou Evergrande club, where Lippi began his first coaching stint in China from 2012 to 2015.
He led Evergrande to win Chinese Super League three times and stand on the Asian top podium for the first time in 2013, which has earned him reputation in the country.
The world cup-winning Italian became China manager on Oct. 22 and will serve till the end of the 2019 Asian Cup.
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