China breathed new life into their World Cup dream when they stunned Qatar 2-0 to move to the brink of the next round of qualifying on Tuesday.
Second-half goals from Huang Bowen and Wu Lei shocked Qatar, who had won all seven of their previous Group C games, on a dramatic night in Xi’an.
China‘s win, together with the Philippines’ surprise 3-2 victory over North Korea in Manila, put Team Dragon in the box seat to clinch a spot in the third qualifying round and the 2019 Asian Cup.
China have only qualified for one World Cup, in 2002, but President Xi Jinping is spearheading a drive to turn the giant Asian country into a footballing power.
Their chances of reaching Russia 2018 took an upturn in the 57th minute, when midfielder Huang buried a shot from outside the penalty box into the corner after a goalmouth scramble.
Here's Wu Lei's goal which saw China win 2-0 over Qatar and squeeze through to the final WC qualifying stage pic.twitter.com/gdLPajVz5I
— Wild East Football (@wildeastfootbal) March 29, 2016
This was followed by a close-range strike in the 88th minute by Wu, who had come close twice before.
Qatar, who will host the 2022 World Cup, were lacklustre and showed little threat despite their perfect record in their other qualifying games.
China brought greater organisation and energy, boosted by a raucous home crowd in the ancient capital of Xi’an.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) March 29, 2016
“My luck was good, it was a team effort,” Huang told state broadcaster CCTV, before adding: “Chinese football is gradually improving.”
As the final games unfold, China need to finish among the four best-performing second-placed teams in eight qualifying groups to reach both the next stage and the 2019 Asian Cup.