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MD5 - Group A: Syria 2-1 China PR

Dubai: Zhang Linpeng’s own goal 14 minutes from time earned Syria a 2-1 win over China PR at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Thursday as Fajr Ibrahim’s side opened up a five-point gap at the top of Group A of the Asian Qualifiers. 

Guangzhou Evergrande defender Zhang put the ball in his own net after Wu Lei had earlier cancelled out Osama Omari’s header to leave Marcello Lippi’s side in second place in the group, level on seven points with the Philippines after four matches.

It was a result which led to Lippi announcing his resignation, which was subsequently accepted by the Chinese Football Association.

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Syria lead the group with a maximum 12 points from their first four games and took the lead after 19 minutes when they hit the Chinese on the break, the ball finding Mahmoud Al Mawas on the right before his cross was expertly steered beyond Yan Junling by Omari’s towering header.

The lead was to last only 10 minutes, however, with Wu making amends for an earlier miss when he latched on to Wang Gang’s long ball from deep, only to send his shot off target.

But the Espanyol striker made no mistake second time around to cancel out the Syrian opener when he found time and space behind the defence again to meet another ball over the top. This time Wu Xi clipped his pass over the heads of the back line and Wu Lei slotted a fine first time finish that slotted between Ibrahim Alma’s legs.

The Syrians, though, kept looking to eke out a second, with Ward Salama hitting a weak shot through to Yan before Omar Al Somah forced a pair of saves out of the Shanghai SIPG keeper, palming away a free-kick minutes before a shot on the run saw Yan drop to his left to collect.

Omari eventually made way for former AFC Player of the Year Omar Khribin and the Al Hilal striker was to have a telling impact on the outcome with less than a quarter of an hour remaining.

The 25-year-old, who was instrumental in his nation’s run to the brink of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, found space wide on the Syrian left and, as he played a low cross across the face of goal, a retreating Zhang turned the ball beyond Yan and into his own net.

China pushed for the equaliser but it never came and Lippi’s team now face an uphill task to seal top spot and a place in the next round of qualifying.

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