DOHA — China’s Asian Cup hopes are on a knife edge after they were held 0-0 for the second game in a row against Lebanon on Wednesday.
Lower-ranked Lebanon twice struck China’s crossbar while the Chinese had an effort cleared off the line in an entertaining stalemate.
Hosts and holders Qatar play debutants Tajikistan in the group later in the day with the last 16 within reach. China play Qatar in their final group game on Monday.
Qatar top Group A with three points and a game in hand, with China on two, and Tajikistan and Lebanon on one.
Only the top two are sure to reach the knockouts and this was another anti-climax for Chinese football, which is reeling from a graft scandal at home.
Their Serbian coach Aleksandar Jankovic called it “a very tough game” and said they deserved more.
“At the end we did not win but we showed good mentality, excellent attitude and big fight.
“The road is still long and the target is the same – to play in the knockout stage.”
Jankovic said China’s fate was still in their own hands, even if the pressure is on to beat reigning champions Qatar.
“We depend only on ourselves and I always like to be in this kind of situation,” he said.
Playing in mint green and fresh from a 0-0 draw with Tajikistan, China were on the back foot early against a team ranked 28 places below them.
Lebanon were beaten 3-0 by Qatar in the opening game of the tournament but their height and strength caused a sluggish China problems.
In front of a crowd of 14,000 at the 44,000-capacity Al Thumama Stadium, a venue for the 2022 World Cup, the first chance came on 24 minutes.
Chinese goalkeeper Yan Junling parried the ball out wide and from the resulting Lebanon cross, Omar Bugiel – who plays for Wimbledon in England’s fourth tier – headed over the bar.
The 30-year-old forward, who has bounced around lower- and non-league English football, had two more sniffs at goal as Lebanon turned the screw.
China finally came alive at the end of the half, forwards Wu Lei and Zhang Yuning denied three times in quick succession by goalkeeper Mostafa Matar.
Hassan Maatoukt struck China’s bar in first-half injury time and after the break Hasan Srour also clipped the top of the goal-frame.
Midway through the second period China came within inches of taking the lead when Matar made a mess of a tame effort, but Lebanon cleared off the line.
Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic called it “an important point” heading into their final group match against Tajikistan.
“We didn’t score but I am satisfied because we are still in the tournament going into the last match,” he said.
“Just finishing – if we improve this, we will win the game.” — AFP