WUHAN, China, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- A late penalty kick from Gao Lin helped China keep the slim hope to enter the 2018 World Cup as Marcello Lippi's side beat Uzbekistan 1-0 at home on Thursday in the penultimate round of the Asian qualifying campaign.
China wasted a bunch of clear chances and looked close to a goalless draw until the 87th minute, when defender Feng Xiaoting was fouled down in the area and awarded the valuable chance.
Gao, the target man, struck the ball to the bottom left corner to grab the last mathematical chance for the hosts.
With one game left against Qatar, China, having collected nine points from nine matches to sit in the provisional fifth place of six-team Group A, joinly led by Iran and South Korea, cherishes the hope for a third-place finish to earn the chance of vying for a play-off berth.
In Thursday's vital clash, China had an early sight of goal just four minutes after the opening whistle when winger Wu Lei picked up the ball in the central area but sent his volley just wide of the right post.
A sold-out attendance of 51,666 in the Wuhan Sports Center drove on the home side with the rhythmic thud of the drums in a cool night, witnessing an offensive open play from China in the dominant first half.
China should have opened the deadlock in a huge chance nine minutes before the break. Central midfielder Zhang Xizhe broke through the visitors' back-line with a smart touch to dash into the area, but he wasted a one-on-one opportunity by shooting the ball straight down the central control of Ignatiy Nesterov, the goalkeeper.
It was later proved to be the best chance for China in 90 minutes as Lippi's side didn't get a much clearer chance afterwards.
Uzbekistan also spurned a one-on-one chance two minutes after the restart. The visitors' winger Marat Bikamaev dispossessed Deng Hanwen and cut back from the left flank for Igor Sergeev, who struck wide in front of an open net.
The open play from both sides in the rest of game didn't bring a goal until Gao's penalty kick.