MELAKA, Malaysia, June 14 (Xinhua)- China's flickering hope to reach the 2018 World Cup was dimmed after they conceded a last minute goal and tied Syria 2-2 in Asian qualifiers here on Tuesday.
Mahmoud Almawas converted a penalty to break the deadlock in the 12th minute, only to see Gao Lin equalize in a very similar way in the 68th minute.
Wu Xi's volley in the 75th minute put China in front, but it was too early for the Chinese side to celebrate as Ahmad Al Saleh's freekick made them crestfallen.
"It was a very disappointing result for us, we deserved three points," said China's coach Marcello Lippi.
"Our performance in the first half was not that good, but we did a very good job in the second half and turned the game around.
"Unfortunately, the referee changed the game. I don't understand why he made that call. It was a fatal decision for us." The Italian said with a upset body language.
With only five points in their previous seven games, China needed a win badly to kept their hope alive to reach the 2018 World Cup. Syria, three points ahead of China, wanted to cut their deficit to Uzbekistan who lost to South Korea one day earlier.
Syria showed their intent early in the match. In the 11th minute, Fahad Youssef was touched down by keeper Zeng Cheng inside China's box and the referee awarded Syria a penalty.
Mahmoud Almawas sent the ball to the left bottom corner but the goal was cancelled by the referee, who believe Almawas' teammates moved before the whistle.
Almawas showed his composure and hit the same corner to gift Syria a comfortable lead.
China controlled well in the next half hour but Gao Lin and Zhang Xizhe missed series of chances.
Zhang Linpeng had been very close to equalized for China in the final minute of the first half, but his header hit the crossbar.
The second half saw China almost dominated the whole pitch and finally pull the match level in the 68th minute. Nassouh Nakkdahli's foul on Zhang Linpeng inside the box was clearly witnessed by the referee. Gao Lin beat the pressure to convert the penalty.
Only seven minute later, substitute Xiao Zhi's header found Wu Xi, whose volley made the keeper no chance and China were in front.
Syria spared all their efforts in the final minutes, but China showed their solid defense. The referee made a huge decision in the injury time to award a freekick to Syria after Hao Junmin and Tamer Hag Mohamad's air due. Al Saleh's curling effort in the last minute went round of the wall and rocketed into the far corner.
China's Captain Feng Xiaoting was in tears after the final whistle.
"We did so well in the second half, and we almost touched the victory. But this is football. It is so hard for me to accept the result, but we will fight to the end." he said.