China hold Iran to earn first point in World Cup qualifying
Shenyang (China) (AFP)
China held heavyweights Iran to a gritty 0-0 draw to lift their hopes of reaching just their second World Cup in Asian qualifying on Tuesday.
Asia's sleeping giants lacked ambition in the first half but they went for broke in the second in a performance that was good enough to earn their first point of the third round.
China have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002, but qualifying for Russia 2018 would be a significant statement for a country which aims to become a global football power.
There were encouraging signs in last week's 3-2 defeat to South Korea, and Iran, Asia's top-ranked side, would have held few fears for Gao Hongbo's men in front of a partisan, red-shirted home crowd.
However, a dire first half was more notable for its fouls than its goalmouth action as both sides struggled to gain momentum on a poor pitch in Shenyang.
Chinese goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and Iranian defender Pejman Montazeri both left the field after separate clashes as the two teams tried to impose themselves physically.
Masoud Shojaei dragged Iran's best chance wide and Zhang Yuning's ambitious effort on the turn was China's nearest sight of goal in the first 45 minutes.
But China attacked with renewed intent after the break and it was a different spectacle in the second half as the game opened up.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh should have netted for Iraq but he blazed a glorious chance over, while Zhang was denied by Morteza Pouraliganji's desperate block.
Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand smothered at the feet of Wu Lei and Chinese substitute 'keeper Gu Chao also saved sharply in the final minute to ensure China's first point of Group A.
Defeat to Carlos Queiroz's team would have slashed China's odds of reaching the World Cup but they will now tackle their remaining eight games with renewed confidence.
© 2016 AFP