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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
China's road to the finals
China's Li Tie, Fan Zhiyi and Xie Hui
Are China ready to become one of the top football powers
BBC Sport Online looks at how China overcame a history of underachievement in football to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

The improvement in Chinese football can be identified in the country's ambition to stage the World Cup in the future.

In 14 games during their qualifying groups, they lost just once and that was in their final game, with qualification already assured.

For China the qualifying process was split into two groups.

They were clear favourites to win the first of these with the Maldives, Cambodia and Indonesia their opponents.

Qualifying campaign
First group stage
W 10-1 Maldives (h)
W 1-0 Maldives (a)
W 4-0 Cambodia (a)
W 5-1 Indonesia (h)
W 3-1 Cambodia (h)
W 0-2 Indonesia (a)
Second group stage
W 3-0 UAE (h)
W 2-0 Oman (a)
D 1-1 Qatar (a)
W 2-0 Uzbekistan (h)
W 1-0 China (a)
W 1-0 Oman (h)
W 3-0 Qatar (h)
L 0-1 Uzbekistan (a)

But even they may have been surprised by the margin of their opening 10-1 victory against the Maldives.

In that game, skipper Fan Zhiyi, familiar to supporters of Crystal Palace in England and Dundee in Scotland, was on the scoresheet twice.

Despite being a central defender, it was not the last time that Zhiyi registered during qualifying.

Two more efforts in the second stage saw him finish as China's joint-second top scorer with four goals, behind Xie Hui who notched seven.

Having finished top of the opening group, Bora Milutinovic's men prepared to face the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Uzbekistan in the next phase.

They began with a comfortable 3-0 home success over the UAE, World Cup finalists in 1990 and favourites to challenge China for qualification.

Next up was a potential banana skin with a trip to Oman.

But China kept their cool and goals from Qi Hong and Fan Zhiyi ensured a maximum six points from two games.

Milutinovic could not have hoped for a better start, but his side were given a stark warning that they could take nothing for granted when they dropped two points on a trip to Qatar.

Potential star

Here Li Wei Feng, tipped to be one of the stars of their World Cup campaign, grabbed a crucial goal to ensure a point away from home with the daunting trip to the UAE around the corner.

Amazingly, China kept up their unbeaten run against the UAE as a single goal from Qi Hong pocketed maximum points and ensured they had their World Cup destiny in their own hands.

A 1-0 home win over Oman and a 3-0 success away to Qatar followed to guarantee China of their first ever World Cup berth.

With qualification assured, Uzbekistan snuck a 1-0 victory in the final qualifying game to inflict China's only defeat of the campaign.

Milutinovic's achievement in having guided China this far cannot be underestimated.

But having coached four different teams in the last four finals, he understands better than anyone that China's opponents this summer will be on a different level to anyone they faced in qualifying.

Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica lie in wait in Group C.

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GROUP C
  P GD PTS
BRAZIL 3 +8 9
TURKEY 3 +2 4
COSTA RICA 3 -1 4
CHINA 3 -9 0

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