China's hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup finals hang by the thinnest of threads after they were held to a 2-2 draw by Syria as Qatar boosted their slim chances with a 3-2 win over South Korea on Tuesday.
Second-half goals from Gao Lin and Wu Xi looked set to give China the win after Mahmoud Al Mawas had put the Syrians in front in the 12th minute when he scored from the penalty spot.
But Ahmed Al Saleh's curling injury-time free kick saw the points shared and leaves the Chinese six points behind third placed Uzbekistan with two games remaining, with the two nations set to meet in August.
The top two teams in each of Asia's two groups qualify automatically, with Iran booking their place in the finals on Monday night thanks to their 2-0 win over the Uzbeks in Tehran. The third placed teams enter into a playoff round for Asia's remaining half place.
China had looked set to exit the competition on the eve of a visit to Beijing by FIFA president Gianni Infantino to meet President Xi Jinping when Al Mawas converted after goalkeeper Zeng Cheng had brought down Fahd Youssef.
Zhang Linpeng hit the Syrian crossbar with a header late in the first half as China endured continuing frustration, but a foul on the Guangzhou Evergrande defender in the second half saw Gao level from the spot.
Seven minutes later Jiangsu Suning midfielder Wu volleyed home from eight metres out to give China what appeared to be the winner until Al Saleh struck his late goal.
"It's a shame we only gained a point from this game," said China coach Marcello Lippi. "We deserved the three points.
"Now there is only one possibility left: we have to beat Uzbekistan by two goals in our next match and then hope they lose and that we win against Qatar.
"We will try everything we can to grasp this last chance, but if we had taken three points today the whole picture would be more optimistic."
Qatar's Hasan Al Haydos scored the winner 16 minutes from fulltime in Doha as they secured a 3-2 victory over South Korea that keeps alive the 2022 World Cup hosts' slim hopes of a third-place finish in Group A and a shot at the playoffs.
Al Haydos and Akram Afif gave Qatar a two-goal cushion before Ki Sung-yueng and Hwang Hee-chan pegged the home side back.
Al Haydos claimed the winner to move Qatar to within five points of Uzbekistan.
Japan, meanwhile, were forced to share the points with Iraq in Tehran to leave just one point separating the three teams at the top of Group B with only two matches remaining.
The Japanese continue to lead the group but now only have a one-point advantage over Saudi Arabia and Australia after the Socceroos defeated Bert van Marwijk's team last week.
Yuya Osako put Japan in front eight minutes into the game in Tehran when he steered Keisuke Honda's corner home with a header, but a defensive mix-up allowed Mahdi Kamil to level the scores for an Iraqi side that has no chance of qualifying.
The United Arab Emirates missed the chance to close in on the top three teams when they were held to a 1-1 draw in new coach Edgardo Bauza's first game in charge, with Ali Mabkhout scoring late in the game to cancel out Mongkol Thosakrai's opener for Thailand.