BEIJING, March 26 (Reuters) - Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved an 89th-minute penalty to help an injury-depleted Australia side scrape a 0-0 draw against China in their Asian World Cup qualifier in Kunming on Wednesday.
The veteran Middlesbrough stopper went from villain to hero
in the space of a minute, saving Shao Jiayi's spot kick after he
brought down Chinese striker Qu Bo in the penalty area.
'To lose that match to a late penalty would have been a
disaster for us because I thought we deserved to get something
out of the game,' Schwarzer told Australian television.
'When you look at the preparation we've had it's an amazing
Australia went into the match, played in front of a
near-capacity crowd in the southwest China city, minus Harry
Kewell and a number of their key Europe-based players who
withdrew late with injuries.
Schwarzer's heroics were the counterpoint to a disappointing
display from China, whose strikers missed a number of
goal-scoring opportunities in a largely defensive and scrappy
Zhu Ting failed to capitalise on several early chances,
volleying over the bar twice from close range, while Zheng Zhi's
mistimed 35th-minute strike allowed Schwarzer time to scramble
across his line and prevent the hosts from taking the lead.
Already short of options up front, Australia's injury woes
were compounded when striker Archie Thompson was forced off
after just eight minutes.
Despite lacking firepower and seeming content to play for a
draw, Australia nonetheless created several chances, with Mark
Bresciano surging forward dangerously from midfield.
The Palermo playmaker cannoned a cross from Brett Holman
into Chinese keeper Zong Li in the 24th minute, and set up David
Carney for an injury-time strike only to be denied by a
desperate block by defender Sun Xiang.
Australia coach Pim Verbeek, who overcame a bout of
gastroenteritis on Tuesday to oversee the match, said he was
pleased with the draw.
'We only had two days' preparation and the Chinese team had
two and a half months so I think we played very well ... I'm
very proud of the boys,' the Dutchman said.
China, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Iraq in Dubai last
month, need to beat Asian Games champions Qatar to get their
World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.