Marcelo Lippi wants China to keep fighting for World Cup dream
Marcello Lippi has urged his players to keep fighting to turn their unlikely World Cup dream into reality after Gao Lin's late penalty saw China hand Uzbekistan a 1-0 defeat on Thursday evening.
Gao struck from the spot six minutes from time after Feng Xiaoting was bundled over in the box as the Chinese kept their slim hopes of a place in the playoffs for Russia 2018 alive.
The win was China's second in four games and moved Lippi's team into fifth place in Group B, just three points behind Syria, who occupy third place, which brings with it a place in the playoffs.
"Unfortunately, we started from a low place in the rankings," said Lippi, who replaced Gao Hongbo as coach in October last year and after China had picked up just one point form their first four games.
"We only had one point back then. I've been telling my players that, as long as there was a theoretical chance of qualifying that we should try our best.
"It was already a miracle that we made it to the final 12 and we don't have any reason to give up. Today, we are happy. We won and we made our fans happy.
"However, we still have room to improve."
Neither side impressed in Wuhan, with both teams missing an abundance of chances in a game characterised by nerves and poor finishing.
But with the Uzbeks squandering the chance to pick up a win that would have put them within touching distance of their first-ever World Cup appearance, the battle for the one remaining automatic place at the finals plus the playoff place remain in the balance.
China need to win their final game against Qatar, who have already been eliminated, in Doha on Tuesday and hope the Syrians lose against Iran in Tehran and South Korea defeat Uzbekistan to have any hope of qualifying.
"If Syria lose by three goals against Iran then it may be that we only need to score one goal in our next match," said Lippi.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch