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 By John Duerden

China's victory over Qatar promises to end years of World Cup heartbreak

China football fans
Almost 47,000 fans packed the Shaanxi Stadium to watch China beat Qatar 2-0.

"It was a good night for Chinese football," said China coach Gao Hongbo after watching his team pass through to the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday in Xian with a 2-0 win over Qatar.

The boss was greeted with a round of applause as he entered the post-match conference to face a media that is also desperate for some national team success, or at least an end to years of failure.

There was tension among the 46,817 fans at Shaanxi Stadium. For China to have a chance of becoming one of the final 12 teams in Asian qualification, then Team Dragon would have to secure a victory and hope that other results went their way.

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Qatar had already won the group but China had designs of being one of the four best runners-up from the eight mini-leagues.

Tension gave way to worry at the break after a disjointed 45 minutes in which the home side rarely looked likely to break the deadlock against a Qatari team who had already won the group and had rested a number of key players.

It all changed just before the hour. There was a massive scramble in the area with the Qatari goalkeeper Amine Lecomte saving from point blank range but being helpless as the rebound was hit against the underside of the bar and bounced out.

The ball found its way to Huang Bowen, a midfielder with a habit of scoring spectacular goals who then proceeded to grab a crucial one. His shot on the turn from the edge of the area gave Lecomte no chance and it was advantage China.

China midfielder Huang Bowen
Huang Bowen scored China's first goal in the second half.

For a while, the team came forward but in the last 10 minutes, the nerves really hit and it was Qatar asking the questions. Just as fans were wondering if China would blow qualification at the penultimate stage for the fourth successive time, Wu Lei added a smartly taken second to seal the win.

The celebrations started with the final whistle as the Reds performed a lap of honour in front on an exultant crowd in Xian.

"Chinese football has come a long way in recent years and there is still a lot of work to do," said the victorious coach. "We will keep working hard and will look forward with confidence."

China are one of the 12 teams who will compete for Asia's four automatic World Cup spots along with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Qatar, Iran, Japan, Syria, Thailand, Iraq, South Korea and Uzbekistan.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.

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