Doha: China’s Asian Cup hopes were hanging by a thread Monday after a 1-0 loss to already qualified hosts and holders Qatar meant they finished third in Group A on two points.
Tajikistan beat Lebanon 2-1 in Group A’s other game to leapfrog China into second place and reach the last 16.
Hassan Al Haydos’s 66th-minute wonder goal gave Qatar a perfect three wins from three in Doha.
The result forces China — who failed to score in any of their three games — to wait and see if they qualify for the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed sides from the group stage.
Qatar coach Tintin Marquez made nine changes to his starting lineup after booking their place in the knockout rounds with two opening wins.
Forward Akram Afif, the competition’s joint-top scorer on three goals, dropped to the bench along with striker Almoez Ali and goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.
China began the tournament with two dour 0-0 draws against Tajikistan and Lebanon.
Coach Aleksandar Jankovic dropped out-of-sorts forward Wu Lei to face Qatar and brought in Wei Shihao, who went close with a dangerous shot in a bright start to the match.
Qatar soon began to take control, and China’s former England youth defender Tyias Browning had to make a crucial block to stop Yusuf Abdurisag from opening the scoring on the half-hour mark.
China fluffed the best chance of the first half five minutes later when Wei shot against goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb’s legs from point-blank range.
Striker Zhang Yuning also had a good opportunity in first-half injury time but could not get on the end of Wei’s low ball into the box.
Qatar had the luxury of being able to bring on third-choice goalkeeper Salah Zakaria at half-time.
But he lasted less than 20 minutes before he was replaced by Barsham — Qatar’s third goalkeeper of the game — after clashing heads with a Chinese player.
Afif and Haydos both came off the bench in the 64th minute and the opening goal followed two minutes later.
A corner picked out Haydos lurking on the edge of the box and he lashed a volley into the net to spark joyous celebrations on the Qatar bench.
Jiang Shenglong thought he had equalised in the 87th minute only for the linesman to rule the ball had gone out of play in the build-up.
Lebanon in control
In the other match, in a stadium festooned with their cedar-tree flags, Lebanon took control of the game early, launching repeated attacks but finding no more penetration than they had in their previous two games.
Tajikistan were mostly restricted to shots from outside the box until the stroke of half time, when midfielder Mabatshoev Shervoni slalomed into the Lebanon area, his attempted cross taking a huge deflection off Lebanon’s Robert Melki to loop over the wrong-footed goalkeeper and into the net.
But Tajik celebrations were cut short when the referee ruled the goal out for the tightest of offsides.
Their misery was compounded almost immediately after the restart when Bangkok United forward Bassel Jradi arched in a delicious strike from the edge of the area and inside the far post.
But Lebanon soon had a man sent off when a VAR check upgraded Kassem El Zein’s yellow card — for a studs-up, over-the-ball tackle — to a red.
With a man advantage, Tajikistan camped out in the opposition half, and as the 70th minute approached they once again thought they had scored.
But Alisher Dzhalilov’s goal was scratched off, again for a cruelly slender offside.
When their equaliser did finally arrive, there could be no doubt, Parvizdzhon Umarbaev topping Jradi’s strike with a curling free kick to bring stunned silence to the Jassim Bin Hamid Stadium.
As things stood the Tajiks were going through in second, but they continued to push for a winner.
No sooner had the fourth official signalled a whopping 16 minutes of added time, than they got it, substitute Nuriddin Khamrokulov flicking a delicate backwards header over goalkeeper Mostafa Matar.
Lebanon’s Hilal El-Helwe had a chance to pull one back, at the death, but shot wide as they exited the tournament.