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Battling draw keeps China’s Asian Cup dream alive

Despite squandering a two-goal lead, China battled hard to put themselves within touching distance of a place in the second round of the Asian Cup after drawing 2-2 with regional footballing powerhouse Iran last night.

China were 1-0 up after just six minutes thanks to a stunning 30-yard free kick from Energie Cottbus midfielder Shao Jiayi. Another well taken goal followed not long after the half hour mark, when Shanghai Shenhua’s hot prospect Mao Jianqing put China 2-0 up with an excellent finish. The 21-year-old expertly controlled a deep cross into the box before firing low just inside the Iranian post.

Shanghaiist has mentioned Mao Jianqing before, and the youngster has had trials for Arsenal and Feyenoord, but if he keeps up this level of performance for Shenhua he will surely be destined for the bright lights of European football before long. Although not yet quite a regular with his club side, Shanghaiist has seen Mao deliver many a killer cross during the times he has appeared for Shenhua. Mao Jianqing – remember the name.

However, the match was a proverbial game of two halves and Iran struck back in the second half with an excellent free kick and a well taken header from a corner to tie the match 2-2. The draw means both sides lead the group on 4 points. Iran look certain to qualify as their final group match is against the hapless Malaysians who lost 5-1 and 5-0 respectively to China and Uzbekistan. China require a draw against the Uzbek’s in their final group match to advance to the knock out stage.

Elsewhere in the competition, Iraq caused a sensation by beating pre-tournament favourites Australia 3-1 in Bangkok, leaving the Aussies with just one point from two games and needing to beat Thailand by two clear goals in their final group match to avoid a calamitous first round exit.

Fellow front-runners Japan, who have won three of the last four Asian cups, are looking comfortable for the next round having drawn with Oman and beaten the United Arab Emirates, and face co-hosts Vietnam in their final match. Interestingly, with every team now having played two group games, no one side has won both of their games so theoretically all teams still have a chance of qualifying for the next round.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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