China kept the hope for the Athens Olympics after beating Iran 3-1 at home in the Asian Olympic soccer qualifier Group A match Saturday evening in Wuhan, central China.
The victory was the first for the Chinese, who collected four points from the opening three qualifiers but trailed by five points behind group leader South Korea with three matches to go.
"We're happy to win the match and keep a glim hope for the Athens Games," said Chinese Under-23 coach Shen Xiangfu. "I want my players to go on fighting for it."
Xu Liang scored an own goal on nine minutes in his abortive effort to stop Iranian lone forward Moharram Navidkia, helping the visitors for an early lead.
Just four minutes later, defender Zhang Yaokun converted from the spot to level the score for China after an Irainian defender committed a foul in the penalty box from a corner kick by the hosts.
As neither side was willing to accept any kind of a draw in their battles to catch up with South Korea, both sides geared up their attacks in the second half.
An Iranian defensive loose helped China turn over the scoreboard for a 2-1 lead when substitute Gao Ming volleyed home a perfect cross from midfielder Yu Tao in the 70th minute.
Ten minutes later, Chinese skipper Du Wei scored his header to seal the 3-1 win over the West Asian soccer powerhouse.
"As you know, we are in the most difficult time, but we still got so much support from our fans. I want to say 'Thank You' to all of them. They helped us win the strong Iran," said Shen.
Iran's coach Mohammad Mayelikohan said he had never thought of losing the match.
"I've never imagined that we would lose it. I really did not expect it," said Mayelikohan. "I think Chinese fans are great. They cheered for China during the whole 90 minutes. It really affected us a lot. "
"Now South Korea and China have more hope than us," added he.
Iran holds three points to stay third in Group A, and only the group winner will qualify for Athens 2004.