Kumming: Marcelo Lippi's first game as China coach ended in a 0-0 draw with Qatar in a World Cup qualifier in Kunming on Tuesday, seriously damaging both team's hopes of reaching the finals in Russia.
China prop up Group A midway through qualification with two points from five games while Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, are second-bottom of the standings on four points.
The top two sides in Group A and B qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup finals and the third-placed teams meet to decide who goes into a CONCACAF-Asian Zone playoff for a place at the finals.
Italian Lippi, a World Cup winner who replaced Gao Hongbo last month, saw his side dominate possession but they failed to find a way past a determined Qatari defence.
"We played better than Qatar but just lacked a bit luck," Lippi told a news conference. "We deserved to win. We still have the chance and we'll fight to the end."
Goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb came to Qatar's rescue in the second half when he pulled off a brilliant reflex save to tip Wu Xi's goalbound diving header on to the crossbar.
The woodwork again denied China 10 minutes from the final whistle when captain Zheng Zhi's shot deflected of a Qatar defender before striking the post.
Substitute Cao Yunding, on his debut for China, almost made an immediate impact when he dribbled past several Qatari defenders before shooting into the side netting to leave China still looking for their first win in the group.
Qatar coach Jorge Fossati, who took charge in September, said he was satisfied with a hard-fought away point and backed Lippi to turn China's fortunes around before the teams meet again in their final qualifying game in September next year.
"We had a very tough first half and China gave us much pressure. We improved on possession and attacking in the second but one point is acceptable," the Uruguayan added.
"If China continue to play like this, they can even qualify directly. But China will play at Qatar for the final match, so sorry, they won't have chance."
China host second-placed South Korea in the next round of fixtures in March, while Qatar play group leaders Iran. - Reuters