Fans chanted 'Fire the national team' after the goalless draw [AFP]
China's footballing woes continued despite the national side qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup finals after a goalless draw at home to Syria.

Criticism was flying at both the national team and the coach Gao Hongbo after the point gained at the Yellow Dragon Stadium was enough for China to go through from Group D with a game to spare, on the back of third-placed Vietnam's 1-1 draw with bottom-side Lebanon.

Fans called for Gao to be sacked, and Gao himself was even more critical, saying his team were unable to beat any team.

"Right now we do not have the level to beat any opponent - this is the aftermath of the paralysis of Chinese football over the last few years," Gao said after the match.

"We failed to convert three or four opportunities. I feel sorry about that," said Gao, who received calls from some of the 30,000 crowd to resign.

Calls for resignation

During much of Wednesday's match, fans shouted for coach Gao Hongbo to be fired, while at the end of the game a group of supporters surrounded the team bus shouting: "Fire the national team."

Gao refused to discuss fans' demands for his sacking, saying, "This has nothing to do with the match."

China, who lost 3-2 to Syria at the start of the qualifying campaign almost a year ago under caretaker coach Yin Tiesheng, had recorded three straight wins before Wednesday's draw.

In the match, China's star midfielder Shao Jiayi missed three scoring opportunities when his header was cleared off the line by a defender in the 32nd minute and when he struck the post with a shot five minutes later.

Late in the first half, the 29-year-old Shao, who plays for Germany's Energie Cottbus, had a powerful shot from inside the box punched away by the Syrian goalkeeper.

"Of course it is bad that we created so many opportunities, but didn't have any luck," a dejected Shao said after the game.

"But I am fully confident of the future of this team."

According to an online survey by portal Sina.com, 88 percent of nearly 30,000 polled said they were unsatisfied with China's play in the qualifying rounds, while 61 percent said they felt "hopeless" after the national side's failure to beat Syria at home.

Nearly 63 percent said China were unlikely to get out of the group stage of the Asian Cup, which kicks off in Doha in January 2011.

Source: Agencies