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'
|Liverpool relishing Britannia return, says Henderson|
|Everton big enough to keep Stones - Martinez|
|MLS Review: Fire stun Dallas as goals dry up|
|New Atletico signings excite Raul Garcia|
|Cahill expects Arsenal title challenge|
|Jovetic happy with Inter debut|
|Yanev calls for calm after ugly scenes in friendly|
|Luis Enrique: Barca defence must improve|
|Coppa Italia Review: Cittadella romp to victory, Brescia rely on penalties|
|Arsenal have learned how to play against big teams - Ramsey|
|Shawcross to visit specialist over back woe|
|Fiorentina 2 Barcelona 1: Bernardeschi double sends Barca to another defeat|
|Mancini hints at Melo interest|
|Rodgers hails ´incredible´ Benteke strike|
|Galatasary 1 Inter 0: Sneijder sinks former club|
|Wenger defends Arsenal approach|
|Wembley loss has no bearing on new season - Terry|
|Porto cruise to friendly win over Stoke|
|Mourinho denies Wenger ´snub´ suggestions|
|Arsenal abandoned their philosophy to win Community Shield - Mourinho|
|Mourinho throws Community Shield medal into Wembley crowd|
|Swindon Town 1 Liverpool 2: Benteke nets stunner on debut|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Hearts win thriller on top-flight return|
|Ujah at the double as Bremen beat West Ham|
|Mourinho: We were the better team|
|Wenger hails defensive solidity|
|Rooney returns as Villarreal spoil Ferguson´s party|
|Rodriguez stunner earns Southampton draw as Caulker makes debut|
|Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0: Case of 14th time lucky for Wenger against Mourinho|
|Taechaubol announces Milan agreement|
|Jojic fires Cologne to latest victory|
|China 0 South Korea 2: Kim and Lee seal victory|
|Origi getting up to speed|
|Costa a doubt for start of season - Mourinho|
|North Korea 2 Japan 1: Halilhodzic´s men spurn lead|
|Allam brands FA ´amateurs´ as name-change row rumbles on|
|Fournier ´worried´ by Lyon pre-season|
|Swansea still working on Michu exit - Monk|
|Neuer furious at Bayern Supercup defeat|
|Wenger: Ozil signing not a mistake|
|UEFA Champions League Preview: Shakhtar ready for Fenerbahce decider|
|Lampard targets MLS play-offs for City|
|MLS Review: Goals galore as DC United win 10-goal thriller|
|Ronaldinho returns and helps Fluminense to win|
|Keane: United won´t overtake Chelsea|
|Casillas has the ´enthusiasm of a 20-year-old´ - Lopetegui|
|Blanc hopeful over Ibrahimovic knee injury|
|Guardiola laments late goal in Supercup defeat|
|Tuchel plans to keep Bender|
|Hecking happy with Wolfsburg discipline after Supercup win|
|Arsenal players too interested in selfies and six-packs - Keane|
|Confusion over Ibrahimovic´s PSG future|
|Sporting Lisbon 2 Roma 0: Slimani, Mane inspire Portuguese hosts|
|Rodgers feeling ready for new campaign|
|Khedira to miss Supercoppa|
|Paris Saint-Germain 2 Lyon 0: Aurier and Cavani seal more silverware|
|Wolfsburg 1 Bayern Munich 1 (5-4 on penalties): Super-sub Bendtner nicks it for Pokal champions|
|Lampard´s long-awaited New York City debut ends in defeat|
|Casillas the spot-kick hero for Porto|
|Monk bullish ahead of season opener at champions|
|Marseille 2-0 Juventus: Night to forget for Serie A champions|
|Swansea end pre-season with yet another draw|
|HJK 0 Liverpool 2: Origi and Coutinho on target|
|Juventus rocked by Khedira injury scare|
|Lens and Pantilimon star as Sunderland beat Hannover|
|Pardew hopeful of concluding Wickham deal|
|Martinez allays Lukaku fears|
|Stuttgart 4 Manchester City 2: Cause for concern for Pellegrini|
|Wasteful Bournemouth held by Hoffenheim|
|Jerome seals Norwich win|
|Souare´s first goal ensures Palace draw|
|Sinclair hits hat-trick in Villa draw|
|Leicester end pre-season with thrilling Birmingham win|
|Wood and Mowatt condemn Everton to friendly defeat|
|Coloccini not involved as Newcastle lose to Gladbach|
|Borussia Dortmund 2 Real Betis 0: Ramos scores on return from injury|
|Stoke lose to Cologne on Afellay debut|
|Norwich capture goalkeeper Kean|
|Jovetic hits out at Pellegrini following City exit|
|Jones backing new boys to spark United revival|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Celtic up and running, Dundee hammer Kilmarnock|
|Can keen to learn from Milner|
|Immobile on the mend following friendly scare|
|Sagan Tosu 1 Atletico Madrid 1 (1-4 on penalties): Simeone´s men need spot-kicks|
|Cahill: Big-spending rivals will make title race tougher|
|Roberto happy to play full-back for Barca|
|Gestede eager to make his mark at Villa|
|I want to play more and score more - Remy|
|Lambert influence important, says Pulis|
|Benteke a ´bargain´ buy - Rodgers|
|Zola: Qatar would be ideal for Balotelli, Cassano|
|Suarez: I´m not among world´s best|
|PSG ready despite ´chaotic´ pre-season - Blanc|
|Arsenal thumping still hurts - Fournier|
|Aubameyang targets Champions League success|
|Rooney set for Everton return|
|Cech can match Van der Sar - Wenger|
|Mourinho ponders Wenger´s losing record against him|
|CBF confirm Fred failed a doping test|