Wu Lei (front) of China competes during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Asian qualification football match between China and Vietnam in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, Oct. 7, 2021. (Xinhua)
SHARJAH, UAE, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Wu Lei's last-minute goal secured a dramatic 3-2 win for China against Vietnam in the final round of FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers here on Thursday.
The Espanyol striker netted in the fifth minute of added time after Vietnam had fought back from two goals down and looked set to claim a draw before Wu's sensational winner.
"It was very difficult. All our players were under great mental pressure in the behind-closed-doors match. The result is a good one," said Wu, who was voted man of the match. "China is not the favorite in the group, but we still have opportunities right now. We have to fight one match after another."
The win is China's first in the final round of the Asian qualifiers after back-to-back defeats against Australia and Japan last month. Vietnam remains rooted to the bottom of the group after three rounds of matches.
Looking to win the match, China head coach Li Tie fielded four forwards in the starting line-up and executed a high press from the start. The best chance of a tame first half came in the 35th minute when Zhang Yuning chipped Wu Lei's pass over goalkeeper Bui Tan Truong, but his strike was ruled offside.
China broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute when Zhang netted home with a right-footed shot from the center of the box after Wu's one-on-one effort was blocked by the Vietnamese goalkeeper.
In the 75th minute, Wu headed home Wang Shenchao's cross to extend China's lead to 2-0.
Vietnam pulled a goal back with only 10 minutes to go as Ho Tan Tai scored from the right side of the box following a long ball from Nguyen Hoang Duc.
Nguyen Tien Linh fired home the equalizer in the 90th minute after tucking home Nguyen Quang Hai's through-ball.
But Wang and Wu combined again in the last minute to give China their first win in the final round of FIFA's Asian qualifiers.
"We could have won the match 2-0 if we hadn't made mistakes. There are lots of things we need to improve in defense," coach Li said at the post-match press conference."But my players didn't give up when Vietnam equalized. Luck was on our side tonight."
"The victory is very important for my team, and it motivates us to do better in the upcoming matches." Li added.
Vietnam head coach Park Hang-seo said he would take the responsibility for the bitter loss. "It was very painful to lose the match like that. My player made a mistake, but it was my decision to send him on the pitch, so it was all my fault."
China is in Group B along with Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Vietnam. The top two teams will qualify for Qatar 2022 directly. The third-placed team will enter a two-legged playoff with its counterpart in Group A, with the winner of that tie entering an intercontinental playoff.
In the other two Group B matches on Thursday, Saudi Arabia beat Japan 1-0 at home, while Australia defeated Oman 3-1 in Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and Australia have three consecutive wins with nine points to lead the group. Japan, Oman and China each have one victory and three points apiece. Vietnam sit bottom of the group with no points after three matches.
"Before this tournament kicked off, no one would have believed that Asian powerhouse Japan would only have three points and one goal after three rounds of matches. This is the highest level of competition in Asia, every match is close and everything is possible," noted Li, whose team now face Saudi Arabia in Jeddah next Tuesday.
"We need to recover quickly and be well prepared. It will definitely be a very tough game for us. I hope my players are ready to fight." he added. Enditem