Iran's Morteza Pouraliganji celebrates their victory as China's Wu Lei looks dejected after their World Cup qualifier in Tehran on Tuesday. Photo: CFP
China's head coach Marcello Lippi said he is satisfied with the team's performance in three games since he took the reins in October, but also noted the team need more improvement.
"To date I am satisfied with the team's performance in the three games, but we do need more improvement," Lippi said after the team suffered a 1-0 defeat to Iran on Tuesday.
Since being appointed head coach of the national team, Lippi has led the Chinese national team to one win, one draw and one defeat.
Lippi's team held Iran, Asia's No.1 team in the FIFA rankings, to a scoreless draw before halftime, but the situation changed dramatically less than a minute after the game resumed.
China's left back Jiang Zhipeng came under fire for deflecting a header to Mehdi Taremi, offering the Iran forward a close-range shooting chance, which resulted in the game's only goal.
Making things worse, midfielder Wu Xi injured his nose when blocking a shot, forcing Lippi to make his last substitution after replacing starters Zhang Yuning and Zhang Xizhe in the 46th minute.
"The two substitutions at the beginning of the second half meant we didn't play well in the first half," Lippi told reporters through an interpreter after the match. "Wu's injury worsened the situation."
Wu, captain of Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning, was sent to hospital immediately, as initial reports suggested he broke the bridge of his nose.
"We did well in defense, but it's unlucky we didn't have many chances to score," the Italian noted.
Captain Zheng Zhi believed the team had delivered what they expected, though the result is not what they wanted.
"We wanted to score here to grab some points, that's why we made changes to the attack at the beginning of the second half," Zheng said. "But conceding the goal derailed our tactics."
Keeper Zeng Cheng was hailed widely as China's No.1 between the sticks despite conceding the goal.
"We should be aware of the physical gap between us and Iran, and do our best to fix it," Zeng said after the match. "We are not giving up on the following games, but will try to keep better form against them."
China are yet to win a game against Iran at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
But questions have been raised over China's scoring power, as they only scored three goals in seven games - all during games against South Korea.
About 2,000 Chinese fans traveled to the Azadi Stadium, where an estimated 100,000 Iranian supporters waited. Iranian authorities decided to fill up the 78,116-seat stadium by allowing Iranian fans to enter the stadium for free.
China remain second from bottom in the six-team group with only five points, seven points behind Uzbekistan, who are sitting in third place - the last place possible to qualify for world football's showpiece event.
That means China, who only made it to the World Cup in 2002, need to win all their remaining games if they want to keep their road to Russia 2018 possible - an away game against Syria on June 13, hosting Uzbekistan on August 31 before visiting Qatar on September 5 - and have to hope that Uzbekistan drop as many points as possible.
China's central Asian neighbors Uzbekistan will visit Iran and China before hosting South Korea.