KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - China remain confident of reaching the Asian Cup final despite letting slip a precious chance to top Group C in the 2-2 draw with Iran.
China squandered a two-goal lead in a defensive second-half display and must now beat Uzbekistan to avoid a punishing travel schedule in the knock-out phase.
Even victory on Wednesday may not be enough if Iran, who trail China only on goal difference, beat minnows Malaysia by more than four goals.
The group winners will remain in Kuala Lumpur for the quarter and semi-finals, while the runners-up must travel to Jakarta, Hanoi and back to Jakarta if they are to claim the trophy.
But coach Zhu Guanghu said China were still on course for their second final in a row after losing to Japan in 2004.
"The reason we came under pressure was because they were getting in behind us and having more attacks," he said.
"But I think if we can control the rhythm better we can make it to the final."
Zhu denied negative tactics after withdrawing wingers Wang Dong and Mao Jianqing at 2-1 and striker Han Peng at 2-2 as Iran laid siege to the China goal.
He said the players -- who have already scored five goals between them -- had to be taken off because they were exhausted by the heat and humidity.
"They were tired so I had to take them off," he said.
"I don't think any coach would play defensively in that situation. We lost our lead because Iran put extra pressure on us and we conceded two goals."
Captain Zheng Zhi said the players had mixed feelings about the result.
"The mood of the team is okay. We’re not happy or sad about the result because a 2-2 draw against a good team like Iran is acceptable," said the ex-Charlton Athletic man.
"Hopefully in the next game, we can do a better job."
He said the team was rocked by Ferydoon Zandi's goal for 2-1 just before the break and grew tired in the second half.
"The goal that they scored just before half-time was crucial," said Zheng.
"It was really unexpected and it affected us psychologically as well as giving them a lot of confidence to take the game to us in the second half.
"For us, the biggest problem was that we were tired and we couldn’t attack them like we did in the first half.
"Our formation played deeper in the second half and that meant that we were unable to generate a lot of good attacking moves."
It was a see-saw performance from China who hammered Malaysia 5-1 in their opening match, raising hopes their protracted slump was at an end.
However, Uzbekistan also ran riot in a 5-0 rout of the co-hosts, leaving Wednesday's result unpredictable.
|Coach: Zhu Guanghu|
for Wang Dong 61'
for Mao Jianqing 68'
for Han Peng 79'
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