Spirit may not be enough to save inept China
Any green shoots of promise that may have peeked out during China's opening round win over Kuwait at the Asian Cup were indisputably erased with a performance so inept against a limited Qatar side that Gao Hongbo's side now stand on the verge of elimination.
A pair of goals from Yusuf Ahmed - the first an unstoppable volley that gave goalkeeper Zeng Cheng no chance and is an early contender for goal of the tournament - undid China's hopes of matching group A toppers Uzbekistan and leaves Gao's team in serious trouble.
China must now defeat the Uzbeks in their final group match to have any hope of reaching the last eight, as they aim to avoid a second successive group stage exit at the continental championship.
'Qatar must win their game as well but we must do our best against Uzbekistan,' China captain Du Wei said. 'We have to think about ourselves and we need to forget about this game. We have to focus on the next match.
'As one of the older players, I have to do my job, we have to work hard and help the younger players.
'The most important thing is our spirit. If we have spirit, we can do anything.'
Spirit might just be the only thing this Chinese side have to offer if the ineptitude on show against the Qataris is anything to go by.
Not even the promise displayed in last year's win at the East Asian Championships will be able to console Gao or the millions of fans who are often left lamenting the China team's performances.
The Qataris took the lead after 27 minutes when Ahmed controlled the ball on his thigh before lashing a fine right-foot volley into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Ahmed doubled China's deficit in first half injury time with another effort from the edge of the area, turning the visitors' defence to roll a shot into the bottom corner that Zeng should have saved.
The result means all four teams in the group can still progress to the quarter-finals. Uzbekistan only need to draw against China to advance while Gao's team must win to have any realistic chance.
The Uzbeks stand at the top of the group with six points out of six following their win over Kuwait, who also retain slim hopes of going through. They must defeat Qatar by a significant margin and hope China lose. Qatar, too, will be going all-out for the win they need against the Gulf Cup champions.
'We didn't play very well,' Du said. 'Qatar were attacking from the first minute and they were putting us under pressure in the danger zone.
'We gave away too many fouls and too many free-kicks in the first 20 minutes and that put us under pressure. At the most difficult time, they scored the first goal. We almost made it through that.'