A missed penalty meant China suffered a devastating exit from the Asian 2006 World Cup qualifiers yesterday - despite thrashing Hong Kong 7-0 at home.
Kuwait beat Malaysia 6-1 in the other Group Four match to advance to next year's final round of qualifiers on goals scored after both teams finished with 15 points from six games. The winners of each of the eight Asian groups advance to next year's qualifiers. There are no play-offs.
The China coach, Arie Haan, had said his contract would be terminated if his team failed to qualify but the Dutchman side-stepped the question after the match. "I hope everything will not be destroyed," he said. "I hope they don't start again from zero. I'd like to say that the future is there. Don't start again - go on."
Shao Jiayi and Li Jinyu scored twice but Zheng Zhi missed a 71st-minute penalty for China, who had made their World Cup finals debut in 2002.
A 1-0 defeat in Kuwait last month left China's qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
Needing to score two more goals than Kuwait, they almost pulled off an improbable escape act but fell agonisingly short after captain Li Weifeng's 90th-minute goal.
"The only thing the players didn't do was score even more goals," Haan said. "I never thought during the match that we were done. You can't."
Police in Guangzhou had been on alert to prevent possible riots if China were knocked out. In 1985, fans went on the rampage in Beijing after a 2-1 defeat by Hong Kong cost China a place at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. However, after news of Kuwait's victory filtered through to the crowd of 20,000 in Guangzhou, supporters filed dejectedly away and there were no initial reports of trouble. China's players were in tears, however, with several sobbing as they boarded the team bus after the match.
For Kuwait, Bashar Abdullah and substitute Faraj Laheeb scored twice each as they took control against a poor Malaysia team with five second-half goals.
A crowd of 62,000 saw South Korea, who were co-hosts of the 2002 finals where they reached the semi-finals, struggle past the Maldives 2-0 but secure a place in the final stage of Asian qualifiers.
The midfielder Kim Do-heon broke the deadlock with a superb swerving shot from the edge of the box into the top left-hand corner of the net. Lee Dong-gook, who had missed a string of chances, made it 2-0 for the home side against the spirited Indian Ocean islanders after stabbing in a cross 10 minutes from time.
South Korea, who have olayed in every World Cup finals since 1986, finished Group Seven with 14 points from six matches and cannot be caught by second-placed Lebanon.
North Korealost to the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in Group Five. Saeh Obaid's goal proved the difference, but North Korea had already qualified for the next stage.
Of the other teams already through, Japan beat Singapore 1-0 to make it six wins out of six and unbeaten Uzbekistan beat Taiwan 6-1 at home.
The Iran striker Ali Daei passed the 100 international goals barrier as Iran demolished Laos 7-0 to wrap up Group One. Daei struck four times to take his tally to 102 international goals as Iran finished top with 15 points. Jordan, who had a mathematical chance of catching Iran, were beaten 2-0 away by Qatar.
In the European section, Vratislav Lokvenc and Jan Koller scored in the final minutes to help the Czech Republic overcome Macedonia 2-0 in Group One yesterday. Lokvenc headed in a perfect cross from Karel Poborsky in the 88th minute. Koller added the other goal in the 90th with another header from point-blank range.
Goals from Adoram Keisi and Avi Nimni helped Israel beat Cyprus 2-1 to join Ireland and France on eight points at the top of Group Four.
Karen Dokhoian's powerful 62nd-minute strike earned Armenia an impressive 1-1 draw at home to Romania. Ciprian Marica had put the visitors in the lead in the 29th minute, beating the offside trap and Armenia goalkeeper Apoula Edel.
Andrei Kariaka scored one goal and set up two in Russia's 4-0 victory over Estonia in Group Three. Marat Izmailov, Dmitry Sychev and Dmitry Loskov also scored for the Russians.Reuse content