Angry China fans want Syria striker sacked from Chinese club for World Cup qualifying goal
Ahmad Al Salih scores deep into added time of 2-2 draw to all but end China’s hopes of reaching the World Cup
Angry Chinese fans called for Syria striker Ahmad Al Salih to be axed from Super League side Henan Jianye after he scored the goal that virtually killed off any hopes China still harboured of going to next year’s World Cup.
Al Salih scored a free kick deep into added time of the 2-2 draw between China and Syria – played in the neutral venue of the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca, Malaysia – dumping China to the bottom of group A with only two games left.
Henan fans bombarded social media with demands to sack Al Salih.
One fan, calling himself an experienced soccer media editor, wrote: “Send him back home after returning to Henan.”
Another fan, who called himself a young artist, said: “Whether China can reach the 2018 World Cup or not is all decided by Henan”, while another one wrote: “Henan must sack Al Salih or we’ll sack Henan from the Chinese Super League.”
Other fans took a more conciliatory tone saying “He just plays for his country and should not deserve that kind of comments”, and “He is doing his job as a player and your attitude is too narrow minded”.
One fan asked an interesting question: “Is Al Salih flying back to China with the same chartered flight for team China?”
Al Salih said after the match it was a good result and a good game as “no one is losing”.
“We still have chances in the next two matches. Good luck to Syria, good luck to China,” the Henan striker said.
But if China are to retain their slim chances of qualifying for Russia, they must beat Uzbekistan by more than two goals in their next qualifier and then Qatar in their final match, as well as hoping Uzbekistan lose at home to South Korea.
“That would be very difficult, but we want to try everything possible to gain the chance to qualify,” China coach Marcello Lippi said.
“If we took three points away today, the situation would be more optimistic.”
He added: “It truly is a pity. We deserved three points.”
China fell behind in the 12th minute to Mahmoud Al Mawas’ penalty before second-half goals from Gao Lin and Wu Xi put them ahead.
However, the referee penalised Hao Junmin for an aerial challenge on Tamer Hag Mohamad late on, and Al Salih scored from the resultant free kick.
Lippi believed the decision was incorrect. “The referee changed his decision,” he said. “I don’t understand why he changed his decision. That free kick was fatal.”
“I don’t think it was a foul,” goalscorer Xi said. “It’s very normal to have physical confrontation in football. At such a moment, such a decision was inappropriate. Theoretically we are still alive, we will try our best to win the next games. It’s gonna be hard, but we have to fight.”
The top two teams in the group will qualify automatically for the World Cup, while the third-placed side enter a play-off. China have six points, behind Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan and Syria.
“When the referee blew the final whistle, there was a blank in everyone’s head,” said China defender Feng Xiaoting.
“It’s a pity, but we’ve still got a chance. Today’s game was a brilliant chance for us, we should have seized it.
“The road in front of us is still very, very long. Even if we lost today, we would still walk on. No matter what the result is, everyone should have his own dream, even if he can’t make it come true.
“He needs to fight for the chance. If this time we fail, we’ve still got chance to realise it in the future.”