‘Room for improvement’ for China but time running out on World Cup chances after Iran defeat

Marcello Lippi’s side lose 1-0 in Tehran on Tuesday and now must realistically win their final three games in group A just to secure a play-off place

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 10:32pm

China’s report card from their trip to Iran from coach Marcello Lippi read “room for improvement” but the 1-0 defeat at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, while nothing to be ashamed of, means there is unlikely to be enough time left to rescue 2018 Fifa World Cup qualification hopes.

A home win over South Korea and an away defeat by Iran, with the pair representing Asia’s leading two sides, is not the worse return from two games in group A during this international window.

But with Uzbekistan beating Qatar and South Korea rebounding with a 1-0 victory over Syria, China find themselves seven points adrift of the play-off spot on offer for finishing third and realistically needing to win their final three games.

“Iran is the number one team in this group, they haven’t conceded a goal or lost a game. They are a very strong team,” said Lippi.

Watch: Iran 1 China 0 highlights

“After this game, we still have room for improvement. We did well in these two games, our defence was quite solid today, but if we want to beat a team like that, we still need to make a lot of effort.”

Having picked up just two points from their first five games, first place in group A is now out of reach after unbeaten Iran maintained their four-point lead over South Korea at the top of the table after recording an eighth consecutive home win in World Cup qualifying.

Marcello Lippi is good for Asian football, says Iran coach Carlos Queiroz as the two prepare to lock horns

South Korea can still be caught in second, but they face basement side Qatar when the qualifiers resume in June, and even if China gain revenge over Syria, the slim chance of automatic qualification for only a second-ever World Cup appearance will more than likely disappear.

Despite the historic and heralded win over South Korea last week, automatic qualification was always a long shot, but China could take the battle for third down to the wire with Uzbekistan travelling to Tehran in June before Lippi’s side play host to the Central Asians in August.

Watch: Uzbekistan 1 Qatar 0

China then finish their campaign in Qatar in September, while Uzbekistan entertain South Korea, potentially with just one point separating the two sides.

But for that to happen, China would need to defend better than they did when they handed Iran the only goal of the game barely a minute into the second half as Lippi’s side wasted four chances to clear the ball from inside their own penalty area before Mehdi Taremi eventually poked his shot under goalkeeper Zeng Cheng, who should have done better as the ball dribbled agonisingly over the line.

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“The result was changed by my mistake, I really regret it,” said China defender Jiang Zhipeng, who twice failed to clear the danger with his head.

“I was chasing the ball in the box and I was in a hurry. That ball was a second ball, I jumped with the Iranian player, the ball bounced and I thought the player would jump again to get the ball, so I decided to disturb him.

“But he didn’t jump, but I had already jumped and I couldn’t do anything to clear the ball in the air. If I made a right judgement at that time, I would have cleared the ball.

Watch: South Korea 1 Syria 0 highlights

“Although I made a mistake, I didn’t dwell on that. I tried to change the game with my actions, and I really hoped to make an assist.

“I wanted to make amends for my mistake, but I didn’t make it. I really feel sorry, this is my responsibility.”

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In group B, Japan and Saudi Arabia lead the way with a three point lead over third-place Australia.

Japan beat Thailand 4-0 at home, while Saudi Arabia edged out Iraq 1-0 and Australia recorded a 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates.

Watch: Japan 4 Thailand 0 highlights

Watch: Australia 2 United Arab Emirates 0 highlights

Watch: Saudi Arabia 1 Iraq 0 highlights