For China, there has been a renewed optimism about what's yet to come at the Asian Cup after they won their first knockout game in a major tournament in 15 years, yet the much-anticipated quarter-final clash with three-time champions Iran will be their stiffest test.
The 2-1 victory over a limited Thailand was a welcome respite for Marcello Lippi's side after their 2-0 reverse at the hands of South Korea, but there was little convincing about it beyond the viable option Xiao Zhi offers as plan B for Chinese attack.
China were pinned back by the Thais and struggled to create chances in the first half of their game and it was not the first time China have underwhelmed before the break.
Thailand, like Kyrgyzstan in the group opener, ought to have been out of sight, and China know they cannot expect Iran, Asia's top-ranked team to be as profligate when opportunities present themselves.
It is to Lippi's credit that the issue has not been costlier so far, but the 70-year-old sent a warning to his players, saying they must stay fully focused from the first minute of each game.
"Chinese players have to improve psychologically. Sometimes they need to be much more focused and concentrated and pay more attention during the game," the Italian World Cup-winning coach observed.
"It's a psychological thing. And it's very important to have the same intensity and the same determination from the beginning of the game," he added.
Meanwhile, Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz has called for his side to convert their dominance of possession into more goals as they prepare for the China showdown.
Queiroz's side had to save an early penalty and managed to score only twice during their routine win over minnows Oman on Sunday despite dominating the play with 58 percent possession and 16 attempts on goal.
Much concern was raised after their wastefulness in front of goal as they missed a host of chances to kill the game off in both halves, and the former Portugal boss is intent on putting it right.
"We cannot waste chances as we did against Oman, we must play with a killer instinct and we need to put the ball in the net," said Queiroz, who aims to bring back the Asian Cup title to Iran for the first time in 43 years.
Queiroz expects a sterner test on Thursday against a much-improved China and demands clinical finishing in the knockout stage.
"We know how much China have progressed, especially under [head coach] Marcello Lippi. It will be another difficult game, as will all the matches going forward."
"In knockout football, it is important to kill the game early, it gives you a tremendous advantage. The most important thing for the next game is to be calmer, to be smarter."