Fans cheer on China's players during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification football match against Qatar at the Jassim Bin Hamed Stadium in Doha, Sept. 5, 2017. China defeated Qatar 2-1 in the match, but failed to earn a WC finals ticket.
China bade a tearful farewell to the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Tuesday in Doha, after defeating Qatar 2-1 in the last round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian preliminaries, and yet lost the chance of a WC final ticket.
It was considered a mission impossible even ahead of the game, as China ranked on the fifth place after the ninth round games. The country's faint hope to secure a playoff place lied only in a win in Doha while at the same time the results of the other two games going their way in AFC Group A.
However, it turned out that miracle never happened.
Many Chinese football players and their fans were in tears while leaving the Khalifa International Stadium, which will host games in the 2022 Qatar World Cup finals.
Despite the regrets, with three wins and a total of 12 scores, the Chinese football team has already made a big progress after Marcello Lippi took over as the head coach since October 28, 2016. And now, they are eyeing the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.
A victory, to bid goodbye
Regrets did exist, not only for the Chinese football team, their fans, as well as for some players.
The first half of Tuesday's game in Doha was ended 0-0, with both Qatar and China missed several chances. After the break, Qatar's Akram Afif earned his team the first score, and China's Xiao Zhi equalized the score in the 74th minute. Wu Lei's 82th-minute shot finally turned the table.
Zheng Zhi, the 37-year-old captain, was given a red card in the 80th minute. Many reckoned that it might be the last time he fought for the World Cup. Several of the national team's footballer, including Feng Xiaoting, Gao Lin, Zhao Xuri and Yu Hanchao are also in their early 30s, and it remains uncertain whether they could remain to fight for the 2022 World Cup.
"We've tried our best, and now, we can only hope for the next World Cup," 31-year-old Feng told reporters in tears, "Except I don't know whether I have another chance or not."
But hopes also exist.
26-year-old Wu Lei, who just made his first goal in the World Cup preliminaries, is a representative of the younger generation, upon whom relies the future of the Chinese football.
Lippi and the Chinese football's future
Even missed the 2018 World Cup finals, many were still inspired and encouraged by Lippi and his strategy, which has lead the Chinese national team further on its way of pursuing the WC.
Compared with his predecessor Gao Hongbo, Lippi adopted a more aggressive 4-3-3 tactic, which focuses more on allowing the players to give a full play to their advantage instead of defending against their rivals.
Many footballers have expressed the "confidence" they have resurrected under Lippi's instruction, which is one of Lippi's goals after taking over as the head coach. He insisted that the Chinese players shouldn't feel inferior to their opponents.
"The head coach has been emphasizing to us that as long as we fully displayed our skills, there is no need to be afraid of any opponents," reported The Paper, quoting anonymous national team players.