China stun Koreans to keep World Cup hopes alive

Nam Taehee (left) of South Korea kicks the ball during the World Cup football qualifying match against China in Changsha, China's central Hunan province on March 23, 2017

Yu Dabao struck in the first half as Marcello Lippi's China stunned South Korea 1-0 to keep their slim World Cup hopes alive on Thursday.

The Beijing Guoan forward's header ensured China's first win of in the final qualifying group -- and only their second victory over the Koreans in 32 attempts.

The victory sent a packed Helong Stadium into raptures as China, who were bottom and winless after five games in Group A, gave themselves a glimmer of hope of reaching Russia 2018.

The game was played against the backdrop of high political tensions following Chinese anger over South Korea's deployment of a controversial missile defence system.

In front of a partisan crowd and a heavy security presence, South Korea were on top early on but they had a warning when Yu forced a smart save from Kwoun Sun-Tae near the half-hour.

And Yu broke through on 34 minutes when he nodded China ahead from a corner -- ending a 407-minute goal drought stretching back to their 3-2 defeat to the Koreans in September.

South Korea nearly hit back quickly and Ji Dong-Won twice brushed the top of the netting before China made it to the break with a shock 1-0 lead.

South Korea threw on giant forward Kim Shin-Wook for the second half and as they poured forward in search of an equaliser, the game opened up with chances for both sides.

Korean captain Ki Sung-Yueng let fly with a rocket of a shot on 65 minutes, and Chinese substitute Wu Xi had a curling effort saved at the other end.

On 75 minutes, China's Zeng Cheng saved brilliantly from Ji's close-range header, and Hong Jeong-Ho saw another attempt cleared off the line as China defended stoutly.

The lone flare-up came when Korea's Hwang Hee-Chan lashed out at a prone Yin Hongbo in the final minutes, and it was ultimately a deserved win for Lippi's well-marshalled team.

China will now play war-torn Syria away on Tuesday with renewed confidence, knowing another victory could put them in the hunt for third place in the group and a play-off berth.