Doha: China's bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup suffered a crushing blow after they were outclassed 2-0 by Uzbekistan in a crucial Group A Asian qualifier on Tuesday.
The Chinese, who have invested heavily in football and also plan to bid for the 2030 World Cup, came apart in Tashkent with Uzbekistan scoring twice in the second half through Marat Bikaev and Otabek Shukurov.
Tuesday's victory put the Uzbeks in command of their group with three wins from four matches, while China languish in fifth place with only a point to show for their efforts so far.
The Central Asians, who have never featured in the quadrennial sporting showpiece, raised their game in the second half and opened their account through Bikmaev in the 50th minute, the Lokomotiv Tashkent forward blasting the ball home after playmaker Eldor Shomurodov had split the Chinese defence with a brilliant pass.
The Uzbeks dictated the game thereon and came close to scoring again moments later, but Igor Sergeev's shot crashed back off the post.
But with five minutes remaining, the hosts wrapped up their much deserved three points after substitute Shukurov's speculative effort took a lucky deflection off Zhang Chengdong and rolled into the net.
Uzbekistan could have boosted their tally in injury time only for Jaloliddin Masharipov's shot to ricochet off the post, but the hosts were not complaining as they established themselves as genuine contenders for a Russia 2018 spot.
Iran claimed a sombre 1-0 win over South Korea to jump to the top of Group A.
Iran's defensive minded approach in the qualifiers has worked wonders and they have not conceded a single goal in four matches.
After a couple of unsuccessful forays by Iran, the Korean goal fell in the 25th minute when Ramin Rezaein found himself left with space behind defender Oh Jae-suk before firing in a low ball towards Sardar Azmoun and the Rostov forward scored with his first-time effort.
The frustrated Koreans couldn't even manage a decent shot at goal and the result leaves them with plenty of food for thought before tackling Uzbekistan next month.
Qatar pipped Syria 1-0 for their first win, lifting them off the bottom of Group A.
Hasan al-Haydos struck from the penalty spot in the 37th minute after he was brought down by Zahir al-Medani as the 2022 hosts revived their slim chances following three straight defeats.
Earlier in Melbourne, Australia came from behind through a Mile Jedinak penalty to grab a 1-1 draw against Japan to remain unbeaten in Group B.
The Blue Samurai rocked the Socceroos with a fifth-minute goal from midfielder Genki Haraguchi but skipper Jedinak retrieved a point in a tense game with his spot kick.
"We regrouped at halftime and we were told to have a reaction. There looked like only one team winning the game, it was unfortunate we didn't get that second goal," said Jedinak.
Japan struck early after defender Trent Sainsbury gave away possession and Keisuke Honda released Haraguchi to advance on the Australian goal.
Haraguchi slid the ball through the legs of the advancing Matt Ryan to give the Blue Samurai the shock early lead.
But Australia grabbed a lifeline shortly after the resumption when Haraguchi brought down Tomi Juric for a penalty which skipper Jedinak rammed home to equalise.
Also in Group B, Iraq notched their first win, 4-0 over Thailand, with Mohannad Abdulraheem stealing the show by scoring all four goals.