Toothless China on brink of early Asian Cup exit

By AFP   January 22, 2024 | 04:49 pm PT
Toothless China on brink of early Asian Cup exit
Wei Shihao (No. 20) misses opportunities to score for China in the 0-1 loss to Qatar, in the final round of Group A at Asian Cup 2023, Jan. 22, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa
China coach Aleksandar Jankovic said it was "difficult to expect more" after a 1-0 loss to Qatar on Monday left their Asian Cup campaign hanging by a thread.

China finished third in Group A after failing to score in any of their three games and must wait to see if they squeeze into the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed sides.

Newcomers Tajikistan beat Lebanon 2-1 in Group A's other game to leapfrog China into second place and reach the next round.

China will need a mathematical miracle to join them and Jankovic said they only had themselves to blame.

"In the three games we played, a lot of chances we missed every game," said the Serbian.

"If you don't score, you cannot expect a big result. We are disappointed of course because our destiny doesn't depend on us any more."

China began the tournament with two dour 0-0 draws against Tajikistan and Lebanon.

They again looked toothless in front of goal against hosts and holders Qatar, who had already qualified for the last 16 and made it a perfect three wins out of three.

Jankovic said he stood "firmly behind" the players and had "no regrets because we gave everything".

He also said he was unafraid of paying the price with his job for another Chinese footballing failure.

"There are two types of coaches in general -- those who have been fired and those who will be fired," he said.

"When you accept to do this job, you accept both. The one who thinks about the moment when he will stop working is the one who is afraid of everything.

"The guy who is afraid of everything cannot be a coach."

Wonder goal

Qatar coach Tintin Marquez made nine changes to his starting lineup, including resting forward Akram Afif, the competition's joint top-scorer on three goals.

Hassan Al-Haydos's 66th-minute wonder goal gave them the win in front of over 40,000 fans, the captain volleying home from the edge of the box direct from a corner.

"All 26 players played in our three matches and we gave a spectacular performance," said Haydos.

"These three points are very important for our morale. We have finished with maximum points and now we will concentrate on the last 16."

Jankovic dropped out-of-sorts forward Wu Lei and brought in Wei Shihao, who went close with a dangerous shot early in the game.

China fluffed the best chance of the first half five minutes later when Wei shot against goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb's legs from point-blank range.

Striker Zhang Yuning also had a good opportunity in first-half injury time but could not get on the end of Wei's low ball into the box.

"At this moment we are not lucky to score but this is something very important for the future," said Jankovic.

"I'm sure that the moment will come when all these balls will go in."

Asian Cup 2023: China 0-1 Qatar

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