JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- China twice narrowed the gap with host Saudi Arabia but eventually failed to collect a point, losing 3-2 in its FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifier here on Tuesday.
Sami Al-Naji scored two first-half goals for the host while the Chinese side, who were 2-0 behind into the half break, twice narrowed the gap to one goal in the second half thanks to Luo Guofu and Wu Xi but missed the equalizer in the end.
"My players were too stressed in the first half since we have not played an away game for a long time. But they didn't give up, we scored one goal and another. I am satisfied with their performance in the second half," Chinese head coach Li Tie said at the post-match press conference.
China was outclassed by Australia and Japan in their first two games and notched up their first win over Vietnam 3-2 by an injury-time winner last Thursday. Tuesday's loss left the team fifth with three points in Group B where Saudi Arabia kept a perfect record of four wins to stand atop.
Saudi Arabia opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Sami Al-Naji netted home with a right-footed shot to the bottom right corner. Chinese striker Wu Lei had a golden opportunity to level the score for his team in the 33rd minute but his one-on-one shot was denied by the Saudi goalkeeper.
Four minutes later, the 24-year-old added the second goal from a very close range to the center of the goal on Sultan Al-Ghannam's cross.
After the restart, China changed its formation and substituted two strikers Alan and Luo Guofu on the pitch, which changed the game immediately in the 46th minute, when Luo Guofu netted home with a right-footed volley shot delivered by Alan. But Feras Al-Brikan tapped in the ball to put Saudi Arabia 3-1 ahead in the 72nd minute.
Wu Xi fired home with a left-footed shot from outside the box in the 87th minute to help China reduce the arrear again. In stoppage time, Luo Guofu penetrated into the penalty area but his close-range shot was saved by the goalkeeper and China failed to level the game.
"My team need to play more high-quality friendly matches and all the players have to adapt to the fast tempo of the final round World Cup qualifiers. We will work very hard to fight for better results in the following matches," said Li, whose team will end the two-month-long trip in the Middle East and return to China on Wednesday.
But the Chinese coach admitted he was not sure whether his team could play two home games in China or not in November due to the epidemic prevention policy. "We really want to play our home games in front of the Chinese fans, it will be a great motivation to our players," he added.
Despite the win, the Saudi head coach Herve Renard said he was not pleased with the team's performance. "We could win it easier but we made the game difficult in the second half. If we want to go to the World Cup, we need to be fully concentrated, and there is a lot of work to be done."
China was drawn into Group B of the final round with Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Vietnam. In the other two group B matches on Tuesday, Japan edged Australia 2-1, while Oman beat Vietnam 3-1. Australia now sits second in the table with nine points. Both Japan and Oman have six points, and China ranks fifth with one win and three losses. Vietnam remains rooted at the bottom of the group.
Team China will play its next round match against Oman on November 11; Li Tie's team has to win to keep its faint World Cup dream alive.