China fought back from a goal down to beat Thailand 2-1 in the round of 16 of the Asian Cup on Sunday and avoid a potentially embarrassing upset.
Supachai Jaided put Thailand ahead in the 31st minute, turning and shooting despite being surrounded by three defenders, before Chinese striker Wu Lei missed a string of good chances.
World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi brought veteran Xiao Zhi off the bench in the 64th and three minutes later he scored the equalizer, knocking the ball into the net on the rebound from his own saved header.
Gao Lin quickly added a second from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Chalermpong Kerdkaew. China goalkeeper Yun Junling averted extra time when he stopped Chalermpong’s fierce shot in stoppage time.
China will face either Iran or Oman in Thursday’s quarterfinal as it bids to end a 15-year absence from Asian Cup semifinals.
China’s national team has often fallen short despite the country’s long-term ambitions of becoming a soccer superpower and the wealth of Chinese clubs. China has only qualified for the World Cup once, losing all its games in 2002, and lost its only Asian Cup final to Japan two years later.
Thailand, which got out of the Asian Cup group stage for the first time in 47 years, had caretaker coach Sirisak Yodyadthai in charge after firing Milovan Rajevac following its opening group-stage 4-1 loss to India.
Earlier Sunday, Vietnam surprised an on-form Jordan team on penalties to reach the quarterfinals.
Vietnam will play either Japan or Saudi Arabia in its first Asian Cup quarterfinal since 2007.
It’s the first time the Asian Cup has had a last-16 round after expanding to 24 teams.