BEIJING • Chinese fans were left dreaming of World Cup glory yesterday after they scrambled into Asia's final qualifying stage with a shock win which left state media purring that "anything is possible".
China won 2-0 against Qatar, victors in all seven of their previous games in Group C, to reach the next phase thanks also to the Philippines' unexpected 3-2 victory over North Korea.
It left some supporters tearful after the "miracle" result in Xi'an produced an unforeseen twist for China, whose hopes of reaching a second World Cup in 2018 had seemed forlorn.
"A miracle should not have been needed, but the miracle occurred. This time, we finally believe that 'anything is possible'," said the People's Daily website.
Huang Bowen and Wu Lei scored in the second half against a lacklustre Qatar team, who had already guaranteed top spot in Group C to reach the next stage.
The next stage
2018 World Cup third qualifying round and 2019 Asian Cup (12 teams)
At stake: Four teams qualify for World Cup, fifth-placed team to meet fourth-placed North/Central American side in play-off.
Best 4 group runners-up
•United Arab Emirates
Asian Cup third qualifying round (24 teams)
At stake: 12 spots for 2019 Asian Cup Finals in UAE
Best 4 fourth-placed teams
Eight qualifiers from play-off round
•To be determined.
China's win, combined with the surprise result in Manila, Australia's victory over Jordan and Iran's defeat of Oman, meant Team Dragon went through as one of the four best-performing group runners-up.
"The happiness that football fans felt is as if the Chinese team qualified for the World Cup," Xinhuanet.com said in a commentary.
"Tears! 46,000 fans sung the national anthem in Xi'an. Tonight, I'm proud of the national football team!" read a report on leading news site Sina.com.
China's progress could indeed be invaluable as President Xi Jinping spearheads a drive to turn the world's most populous nation into a genuine football power.
Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Qatar and United Arab Emirates are also through, along with surprise packages Thailand and Syria.
Syria's coach Fajr Ibrahim told reporters that reaching the next stage represented a special moment for his team, who hoped to give a lift to their war-torn country.
The eight group winners and four best-placed runners-up, who also earn a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE, will now be divided into two pools of six for the third round.
The top two in each group will reach the 2018 World Cup, while the two third-placed teams will face each other for the right to contest an intercontinental play-off against the fourth-placed side from North/Central America.