Late Syria strike dims China’s World Cup hopes

Yu Hanchao of China (R) vies for the ball with Zaher Almedani of Syria (L) during the FIFA World Cup 2018 Group A third round qualifying match. — AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Ahmad Al Salih’s injury-time free kick dealt China’s already faint World Cup hopes another body blow as they were held 2-2 by Syria on Tuesday.

China had fought back from Syria’s first-half penalty to lead 2-1 before Al Salih skilfully converted from the edge of the ‘D’ in the third added minute.

Marcello Lippi’s China now face the unlikely prospect of making up six points and four goals in goal-difference to snatch third place and a play-off spot in Group A.

Victory over war-torn Syria would have lifted China’s chances after third-placed Uzbekistan went down 2-0 to Iran. Only the top two teams earn an automatic spot at next year’s World Cup.

Mahmoud Al Mawas put Syria ahead in the 12th minute from the penalty spot — even after he was forced to take his kick twice for an infraction.

China threatened but the clock was ticking down when Zhang Linpeng took a tumble in the box for what looked like a soft penalty, which was converted by Gao Lin on 68 minutes.

Wu Xi earned China a 2-1 lead when he found space to swing his right boot and bury a volley in the 74th minute, putting his team on course for only their second win in the group.

But Salih, who had complained bitterly about China’s penalty, stepped up in injury time to place his free kick past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

Syria remain in fourth place in the group, ahead of China who play Uzbekistan and rock-bottom Qatar in their last two games.