China's faint hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup finals in Russia finally ended on Tuesday, despite securing the victory they needed in Qatar with just 10 men.
Syria's draw in Iran and Uzbekistan's goalless stalemate with South Korea meant that two late goals to secure a 2-1 win in Doha were ultimately futile in China's desperate bid to snatch a play-off place for next year's tournament.
As well as coming from behind, China also took the lead after their captain Zheng Zhi had been sent off.
But despite being knocked out, China's coach Marcello Lippi said his team had made real progress for the future after taking 11 points from their last six games.
‘When I was first appointed nobody told me to get to the World Cup,’ said the Italian at a press conference afterwards.
‘They asked me to build up a very strong team.
‘We were unlucky, we didn't get the results we deserved,’ added Lippi, who received applause from Chinese journalists as he left the press room.
China began the match brightly.
They dominated early on and should have scored as early as the second minute when Xiao Zhi missed a free header from just six yards.
They squandered several other chances before Qatar made any impression, but the game remained goalless at half-time.
However, the deadlock was broken immediately in the second half and against the run of play, it was Qatar who took the lead.
Striker Akrim Afif sidefooted home in the 46th minute, after good work from Ali Al-Moez.
The game became more stretched as China pushed men forward for an equaliser and Afif should have scored a second soon after, but was denied by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
The visitors equalised in the 74th minute when Xiao Zhi powered home from close range, to give China a glimmer of hope.
That appeared to end just six minutes later however when Zheng was red-carded after he fouled Afif, who was clean through on China's goal.
But just two minutes later substitute Wu Lei scored to give China the lead and set up a dramatic finale.
Results elsewhere though meant that China had failed to qualify for Russia, and they finished fifth, one point off of the play-off position, secured by Syria on a night of high-drama in AFC Group A.
While Lippi remained confident about China's future, it was another sobering night for their ambitious rivals, Qatar.
Defeat meant they finished bottom of the group, a desperate end for a country anxious to qualify for its first World Cup finals before they host in 2022.
The match was also played in a near-empty Khalifa stadium, the first international to be played in one of the revamped venues that will be used during the 2022 tournament.
Despite the sad end to the tournament, coach Felix Sanchez said there were enough young players coming through to give Qatar hope.
‘We have a lot of very young players, we will keep working with them,’ he said.
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