Beijing - Chinese fans were left dreaming of World Cup glory
on Wednesday after they scrambled into Asia's final qualifying stage with a
shock win which left state media purring that "Anything is possible".
China won 2-0 against Qatar, victors in all seven of their
previous games in Group C, to reach the next phase thanks also to the
Philippines' unexpected 3-2 victory over North Korea.
It left some supporters tearful after the
"miracle" result in Xi'an produced an unforeseen twist for China,
whose hopes of reaching a second World Cup in 2018 had seemed forlorn.
"A miracle should not have been needed, but the miracle
occurred. This time, we finally believe that 'anything is possible'," said
the People's Daily website.
Huang Bowen and Wu Lei scored in the second half against a
lacklustre Qatar team, who had already guaranteed top spot in Group C to reach
the next stage.
China's win, combined with the surprise result in Manila,
Australia's victory over Jordan and Iran's defeat of Oman, meant Team Dragon
went through as one of the four best-performing group runners-up.
It was an outcome which seemed unthinkable after November's
0-0 draw with Hong Kong, which cost China's French former coach Alain Perrin
"The happiness that football fans felt is as if the
Chinese team qualified for the World Cup," Xinhuanet.com said in a
"Tears! 46,000 fans sung the national anthem in Xi'an.
Tonight, I'm proud of the national football team!" read a report on
leading news site Sina.com.
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- 'National pride' -
And a commentator for state broadcaster CCTV trumpeted after
the match: "Football arouses national pride. The goal scored by Huang
Bowen is priceless!"
China's progress could indeed be invaluable as President Xi
Jingping spearheads a drive to turn the world's most populous nation into a
genuine football power.
China, listed at 96th in the FIFA rankings, have only
reached one World Cup before and have long under-achieved on the international
Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Uzbekistan, Iraq, Qatar and United Arab Emirates are also through, along with
surprise packages Thailand and Syria.
Syria's coach Fajr Ibrahim told reporters that reaching the
next stage represented a special moment for his team, who hoped to give a lift
to their war-torn country.
Syria progressed despite a 5-0 defeat by Japan, while Asian
champions Australia hammered Harry Redknapp's Jordan 5-1 to comfortably
progress as Group B winners.
"We've come a long way in football but more importantly
since winning the Asian Cup (last year) we've kept the momentum where we still
are the strongest team in Asia and we've proved it now in this first stage of
the qualifying stages," said striker Tim Cahill, who scored twice for the
Socceroos in Sydney.
The eight group winners and four best-placed runners-up, who
also earn a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup in UAE, will now be divided into two
pools of six for the third round.
The top two in each group will reach the 2018 World Cup,
while the two third-placed teams will face each other for the right to contest
an intercontinental play-off.For
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