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Soccer: Shao Helps China Scrape Past Singapore
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Bundesliga side Cottbus' playermaker Shao Jiayi converted a last-gasp penalty to give China a somewhat embarrassing 1-0 victory over Singapore in an Asian Cup qualifier in Tianjin last night.

Chinese coach Zhu Guanghu may find it hard to hold onto his job as China appeared rusty throughout the game against a steady Singapore side. And it wasn't until the last minute that victory was clinched with Shao's spot kick. 

Zhu was under big pressure before the match as the team had lost to Iraq 2-1 in the previous game. In fact he did say he'd leave the job if his team were defeated by Singapore.

The hosts dominated the first half and launched waves of attacks to claim territorial superiority. But Singapore's defense remained solid and China only produced any threat through set-pieces. Shao bent a free kick in the first minute but Singapore's goalkeeper Lionel Lewis denied his effort with a save at full-stretch. 

The in-form keeper stopped Xu Liang's goal-bound long range thunderbolt at the end of the first half pushing the ball round the post. Singapore posed problems for China with their counter attacks but to little effect.

Substitute midfielder Zhao Xuri received his marching orders for a deliberate foul in 64 minutes just 13 minutes after he was brought on to replace Tao Wei. China slowed the pace down with 10 men giving the opponents more space and they gradually lost their dominance. Singapore went close in the 67th minute with a low free kick that was well saved by Chinese goalie Li Leilei.

Hitman Li Jinyu wasted a good chance when his well executed half volley inside the box went wide. Shao hit the post four minutes before the end with a fine curving free kick.

"With 10 men on the pitch we really felt big pressure and I've told my players that they should control themselves during the game," said Zhu. "The players made big efforts and created a lot of chances but didn't make good use of them.

"My contract with the Chinese Football Association expires in November and my task is to lead China through to the Asian Cup finals," added Zhu.

"This was a tough game and both teams played hard," said Singapore coach Radojko Avramovis. "China controlled most of the game but they should not end the battle in this way. I am not angry with the penalty but I'm not satisfied because two of my players gave China's left winger too much space to make his run." 

Zhu took over the Chinese national team from Dutchman Arie Haan in February 2005 after China were stopped by Kuwait from earning a place at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. This happened in the preliminary round of the qualifiers.

According to the latest FIFA world rankings China's standing has dropped from 89 in the world in July to 103 in August -- the first time the country has dropped out of the top 100. China's highest position was 37 in December 1998.

(Xinhua News Agency August 17, 2006)

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