JINAN - The Chinese national women's soccer team were put into a dangerous situation for the 2012 London Olympic Games after three mediocre matches of the Asian Qualifying Tournament.
China collected merely five points after the first three games: two fruitless draws with South Korea and DPR Korea, and a win over Thailand were really not enough strong performance for the hosts on their way to London. China must beat Australia and world champions Japan in the next two games to secure a place at London games.
"I felt uncomfortable during the past three games, but at least we are still alive," said China coach Li Xiaopeng after the 2-0 victory over Thailand.
"We still have the chance to walk out of the swamp, no matter what kind of process it would like to be. Luckily there are no red cards and match bans. We can have all the players ready for the next game."
Japan now top the table in the round-robin system tournament with the utmost nine points after three straight wins. DPR Korea ranked second with seven points after two wins and a draw against China.
Australia is in the brink of elimination with three points at the fourth place, while South Korea (with one point) and Thailand (with zero point) have been denied the access to London.
The top two of the six teams may advance to the Olympic finals, and as the tournament regulations rule that if two or more teams finish with same points at last, the rankings will be decided first by the greatest number of points obtained in the matches between the teams concerned, Australia's qualifying hopes are rather small as they lost to both DPR Korea and Japan. DPR Korea will almost certainly beat Thailand to gain at least 10 points at last, and as Australia will get at most nine points finally, in fact the Matildas are already finished.
As for China, even if they beat Australia smoothly in the next match to get eight points, they still have to beat Japan to book a ticket with 11 points. Of course there's another possibility: if Japan loses to DPR Korea, China may accept a draw with Australia, and a win against Japan in the final match may send the host through with nine points.
So the pressure is really high for the hosts. The Chinese team have shown some lack of organization and accurate finishing, and when facing the physical Australia and the technical Japan, China will have no advantage.
"The most important thing is that the fate is still at our own hands," said Li Xiaopeng, who was much more optimistic before the start of the tournament. "Sometimes one may fight with all he can if there's only one choice."
Li Xiaopeng brought on striker Ma Xiaoxu for the last 10 minutes in the 2-0 victory over Thailand with a view to let the long-injured talent have some warm-up for the crucial matches later. Ma was obviously not at her best on the pitch, and she may still function as a substitute in the next two games.
China will play Australia on Sept 8, and will challenge Japan three days later.
China failed to qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time in history in 2010. If the "Steel Roses" cannot go to London, it will certainly be a heavy blow.