China crashed out of FIFA World Cup™ contention on Saturday after losing 2-1 to Iraq, who kept their hopes alive with goals from Emad Mohammed and Nashat Akram.
It was a sorry end for China who knew they needed to beat Iraq and then overcome Australia a week later in Sydney to have any hope of advancing to the final phase of qualifying for South Africa 2010. Instead, they will finish bottom of Group 1 with coach Vladimir Petrovic's job hanging by a thread.
Asian champions Iraq joined Australia and Qatar at the top of the table on seven points, setting up an intriguing final round of games on June 22 when Iraq play Qatar and Australia are at home to China. The Harry Kewell-led Socceroos play Qatar in Doha later Saturday to determine who has the advantage.
Akram's winning goal came in a 65th minute counter-attack after he latched onto a pass from Salih Sadir on the right wing, beat his man and sent the ball into the left corner of the net.
China took the lead when they were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area after goalkeeper Noor Hassan illegally picked up a back pass in the 32nd minute. Captain Zheng Zhi tapped the free kick to midfielder Zhou Haibing, who slammed the ball through a crowd of defenders into the back of the net.
Seven minutes later, Salih Sadir took a long pass down the right wing and fired a cross onto the head of an unguarded and streaking Emad Mohammed who nodded home to make it 1-1.
Bad luck for China
China, whose performance again left a sparse crowd at Tianjin's "Water Drop" Olympic stadium howling with disapproval, suffered their share of bad luck after two goal-bound shots were cleared off the line. The first occurred in the second minute when Du Zhenyu caught Hassan off his line only to see his tap in near the right post headed out by a waiting Hawar Mohammed.
Midway through the second half, Chinese striker Han Peng could have scored but his header in front of the goal was scrambled clear by defender Saad Attiya.
China have only qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals once and they were knocked out in the first round without scoring a goal in 2002.