Wuhan (China), March 24 (IANS) China rocked Maldives 4-0 with midfielder Jiang Ning’s hat-trick to keep their hope of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup alive at their penultimate match of Group C in the second round of Asian qualifiers here on Thursday.
Before the match, the home side was at the brink of elimination with an awkward three wins, two draws and one defeat to rank the third of the group, which forced the Chinese Football Association to use native Gao Hongbo to replace Frenchman Alain Perrin as the head coach. After the victory, China now level Chinese Hong Kong on 14 points, but take the second place in the table by advantageous goal difference with one game to spare, reports Xinhua.
If Hong Kong can’t defeat Qatar, who have already secured the first place with 18 points before the game, later in their last group game on Thursday night, China will maintain their runners-up status of the group if they win their last match against Qatar on March 29 on home soil with 17 points, and will have a chance to be listed in the four best runners-up of all the eight groups to get through to the third round of the Asian qualifiers, where 12 teams will fight for 4.5 tickets to Russia. But even if China get 17 points, their fate will still be decided on the situation of other groups.
China had a dream start by left midfielder Jiang Ning’s third minute header on Wu Lei’s left wing cross. Forward Yang Xu doubled the advantage on 12 minutes after receiving right back Zhao Mingjian’s right wing cross.
It seemed that the hosts will get more goals with obvious dominance in the midfield and with 78 minutes to play, but the visitors had some tenacious defending performance and even produced three goal-scoring chances in counter-attacks, which prevented China from scoring until the 84th minute, when Jiang Ning netted home by a well-taken shot inside the penalty area. Jiang added one more in injury time to seal the victory.
The hosts once again exposd their weakness in the finishing by wasting a dozen of scoring chances. It is so similar to the two goalless draws with Hong Kong, in which China hit the woodwork eight times in total.
Maldives showed their guts to cut the deficit in a few good quality counters, but striker Hassan Naiz squandered two good opportunities in both periods, and Easa Ismail nearly made a slide-in on 43 minutes but missed the right-wing low cross at the goal mouth.
China will play Qatar at home in Xi’an on March 29.