China began its long qualification march to the 2014 Brazil World Cup Friday by drawing New Zealand 1-1 in a warm up friendly at home -- but did not score themselves.
Both sides missed numerous chances until Michael McGlinchey netted a sharp shot from outside the area in the 53rd minute for the equaliser.
In a bizarre twist China began its campaign to reach the World Cup finals by splitting the national team into two sides to play three friendlies in five days.
Following Friday's match, Team A will play Honduras in Wuhan on Tuesday, while head coach Gao Hongbo missed the New Zealand game and is already in Costa Rica to lead Team B in a friendly against that country on Sunday.
The double-teaming comes after Gao invited a total of 40 players to train for the national side ahead of World Cup 2014 qualifying, which begins in late June.
Their failure to reach the knockout stages of the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha two months ago further deepened fan frustration over the inability of the world's most populous nation to succeed in the world's most popular sport.
According to China's Titan Sports Weekly, the splitting of the team was due to a scheduling conflict after Costa Rica invited China to play in the maiden event at its new National Stadium in San Jose -- built with Chinese aid.
"Our main plan is to give the fans an exciting match. I'm not too worried about the score," Gao told the paper.
Gao, 45, the youngest person to coach China's national team, was tasked with qualifying for Brazil 2014 when he took the helm in May 2009.
He has overseen a steady rise up the FIFA world rankings from 108 to a current position of 76, but his team's Asian Cup performance has left fans with few expectations for the upcoming campaign.
The fortunes of China's national side are a source of chagrin for many supporters, while domestic professional clubs have been beset by a match-fixing, gambling and graft scandal.
The scandal has resulted in the arrests of two former national football association heads and a number of lower-level officials.
Source: AFP Global Edition