Chinese football fans and pundits were left with a familiar sinking feeling Friday after a disappointing home draw with Thailand left their country's World Cup hopes on a knife edge.

Victory on Thursday in front of a sell-out 47,000 crowd in Shenyang would have sent China into the final qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup.

Instead they were the inferior side for long periods and missed a penalty, before Zhang Yuning rescued a point with 11 minutes left in a deflating 1-1 draw.

President Xi Jinping once said he wanted China to win the World Cup, but they have only reached the tournament once, when they lost all three games and failed to score a goal in 2002.

"There is no blessed land or miracle in Chinese football," state-run outlet The Paper said following the Thailand stalemate.

Fans vented their frustrations on social media site Weibo, with one writing: "There is no strategy, no coordination! It is a mess!"

Going into their last group game on Tuesday, China have eight points and are second behind already qualified South Korea. Thailand are third on five.

The top two reach the next qualifying stage.

However, China face a daunting trip to Son Heung-min's South Korea while Thailand host basement side Singapore.

If China lose against the best team in the group and Thailand win while also making up the goal difference against the worst team, the Thais will go through.

"It is only a matter of time before the World Cup dream ends," China's Oriental Sports Daily said on Friday.

The country's long-suffering fans were no more optimistic, even if their team is still in the driving seat in second place and can guarantee progression with a draw in Seoul.

"This is good, preparing for the 2030 World Cup in advance," said one sardonic post on Weibo.

"Even landing on the Moon is not a problem," said another, referring to China's successful Chang'e-6 lunar probe.

"Surprisingly the World Cup is still a problem."