Branko Ivankovic's reign as China coach got off to a disappointing start as they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Singapore in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

China are trying to reach the World Cup for only a second time and were heading for victory after a first-half brace by Wu Lei, who also missed a penalty.

But goals after the interval by substitutes Faris Ramli and Jacob Mahler secured a share of the points for the home side.

It left China third in Group C of the Asian qualifiers, three points adrift of leaders South Korea and behind Thailand on goal difference.

Ivankovic was philosophical about the result and hopes his team deliver a better performance when the sides meet again in Tianjin on Tuesday.

"I expected a tough and hard game against our opponents. We had a good situation in the first half, but I told the players that 2-0 was a dangerous score," said the Croat.

"We were prepared to take three points but we only took one and now we are looking forward to the next match.

"Singapore had nothing to lose. They tried their best. This is football and the next game we expect to be better."

The visitors broke the deadlock after 10 minutes when Wang Shangyuan's cross was met by Wu, who sent a glancing header past goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.

China had the chance to extend their lead on the half-hour mark when they were awarded a penalty after Wu's shot was handled by Nazrul Nazari. 

But the 33-year-old striker's weak attempt was easily saved by Hassan.

Wu made amends in first-half stoppage time when he fired home a rebound after Hassan could only parry a shot by Xie Pengfei.

Singapore pulled a goal back eight minutes after the interval when Lionel Tan's long ball found Faris, whose speculative effort from the edge of the box rolled past goalkeeper Yan Junling and went in off the base of the post.

Wu thought he had completed his hat-trick and restored China's two-goal advantage in the 74th minute when he turned in Fernandinho's cross, but his attempt was ruled out because the ball had already gone out of play.

Singapore took full advantage of the reprieve and grabbed the equaliser nine minutes from time after Mahler pounced on a loose ball in the box and fired into the roof of the net.