China's World Cup hope slim after a defeat to Syria

    China's hope for the 2018 World Cup looks slim as they were stunned on Thursday by the war-torn Syria in the third game of the final round of the FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers and suffered their first defeat in Xi'an, a so-called "blessed place" for Chinese soccer.

    The hosts dominated the ball possession but could not find the net while Mahmoud Mawas' second-half goal put China at the edge of elimination.

    "Our defense line made a mistake and let the rivals grab a chance in counterattack," said China coach Gao Hongbo.

    China captain Feng Xiaoting said: "We should learn from the loss and focus on the next game."

    Both sides were already feeling the pressure after their winless starts to the campaign as China lost 2-3 away to South Korea and held Iran to a goalless draw on home turf while Syria also had one point from the previous two games.

    China are trying to reach their second World Cup finals in history in the tough Group A which includes 2022 hosts Qatar, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Iran and Syria.

    This is also China's first appearance in the final round of the Asian qualifiers for a World Cup since they qualified for South Korea/Japan 2002, their first and only appearance in the World Cup finals.

    Goalkeeper Gu Chao, who substituted the injured Zeng Cheng in the Iran game, was given a first start while striker Wu Lei was dropped and Gao Lin from Guangzhou Evergrande moved into a new 4-4-2 system.

    The hosts spurned a chance to break the deadlock in the 14th minute as Zhang Yuning broke down the right before sighting Huang Bowen in space just inside the area, but his shot just flew high of the bar.

    China earned a promising free kick in the 37th minute when Gao Lin was pulled down, but Zhang Xizhe's shot was parried away by Syria's goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.

    Gao Hongbo replaced midfielder Huang Bowen with Jiang Zhipeng after the break.

    Syria went ahead in the 54th minute with a perfect through ball between the two defenders of China from Ahmad Saleh to Mawas who rounded Gu Chao and slotted the ball into the net easily.

    China then made one more change as Wu Lei substituted Zhang Yuning.

    In a mix-up in the box in the 71st minute, the attempts from Gao Lin and Yang Xu were blocked by the defenders.

    The visitors missed the golden opportunity to seal the match in the 73rd minute as Mawas sprinted down the right and squared for Omar Khrbin, but his shot went high in front of an empty net.

    In the last minutes, China laid siege to the Syria goal but failed to hit the equalizer.

    With one point from three games, China will be against Uzbekistan on October 11.

    Source: Xinhua