Australia draw after Schwarzer makes amends

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The Independent Online

The Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved an 89th-minute penalty to help an injury-depleted Australia side scrape a goalless draw against China in their Asian World Cup qualifier in Kunming yesterday.

The veteran Middlesbrough keeper went from villain to hero in the space of a minute, saving Shao Jiayi's spot kick after he brought down Chinese striker Qu Bo.

"To lose that match to a late penalty would have been a disaster for us, because I thought we deserved to get something out of the game," Schwarzer said. "When you look at the preparation we've had it's an amazing result."

Australia went into the match, played in front of a near-capacity crowd in the southwest China city, minus Harry Kewell and a number of their key Europe-based players who withdrew late with injuries.

Schwarzer's heroics were the counterpoint to a disappointing display from China, whose strikers missed a number of opportunities in a largely defensive and scrappy encounter.

Zhu Ting failed to capitalise on several early chances, volleying over the bar twice from close range, while Zheng Zhi's mistimed 35th-minute strike allowed Schwarzer time to scramble across his line and prevent the hosts from taking the lead.

Already short of options up front, Australia's injury woes were compounded when striker Archie Thompson was forced off after just eight minutes.

Despite lacking firepower and seeming content to play for a draw, Australia nonetheless created several chances, with Mark Bresciano surging forward dangerously from midfield.

The Palermo playmaker cannoned a cross from Brett Holman into the Chinese goalkeeper Zong Li in the 24th minute, and set up David Carney for an injury-time strike only to be denied by a desperate block by defender Sun Xiang.

Australia's coach, Pim Verbeek, who overcame a bout of gastroenteritis on Tuesday to oversee the match, said he was pleased with the draw.

"We only had two days' preparation and the Chinese team had two and a half months so I think we played very well... I'm very proud of the boys," the Dutchman said.

China, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Iraq in Dubai last month, need to beat Asian Games champions Qatar to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

Elsewhere, Singapore comfortably beat Lebanon 2-0 to pick up the first three points of their Asian World Cup third round qualifying campaign. The city-state's 37-year-old striker Aleksander Duric, who scored twice on his debut in the 3-1 second stage aggregate victory over Tajikistan, opened the scoring in the seventh minute after capitalising on some poor Lebanese defending.

Midfielder Fazrul Nawaz then doubled the home side's advantage, effectively sealing the game after 24 minutes.

Singapore's coach, Radojko Avramovic, praised Bosnian-born Duric, who was called-up to the national squad late last year after becoming a Singapore citizen. "He was running hard in the first half and then in the second half he was playing more in midfield, I think he has done really well for us," Avramovic said.

The Lebanon coach, Emile Rustom, who was missing four first-team players, including Cologne midfielder Roda Antar, bemoaned his selection problems. "It was expected. Lebanon were missing four key players, you can imagine Singapore without four players," he said.

Singapore move to second in Group Four, level with Saudi Arabia whom they lost to in February and three points behind Uzbekistan. Lebanon remain bottom without a point.

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