China Under-21s had the wind taken out of their sails as Uzbekistan's Sherzod Nasrullayev scored an 81th-minute equalizer to cancel out Wu Wei’s opener and secure a 1-1 draw at the Four Nations Tournament in China on Saturday night.
The result means Uzbekistan concluded the tournament as undefeated champions while host nation China finished runners-up. Shen Xiangfu's side bagged a total of five points in the U21 campaign from their one win over Myanmar, and two draws with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
It was tough on China who, apart from a sloppy opening spell, had looked reasonably assured against the Uzbeks in what was a high-profile audition for those players hoping to grab a place in the final squad for the Tokyo Olympics.
Wu Wei did his chances no harm at all when he bundled the ball home after a corner in the 61st minute. In sharp contrast to Wu, Jiangsu Suning young star Huang Zichang, whose brilliant goals and dribbles caused quite a stir in the Chinese Super League this season, had a night to forget as he struggled to make a significant impact.
It was not a pretty sight for former Chelsea and Dutch national team manager Guus Hiddink, who watched China's all three games in the stands amid reports that he is set to be formally appointed as Shen Xiangfu's successor.
The 71-year-old will be tasked with reversing China's decline and guiding the team to the Tokyo 2020 Games, according to Dutch media Veronica Inside. And the Dutchman confirmed during an interview that he will resign if his Chinese team fail to achieve the goals.
Prior to stepping into the breach, Hiddink was best known for leading South Korea to a stunning semi-final spot at the 2002 World Cup. The Taegeuk Warriors put together consistent performances on the world stage even after he left.