China’s national football coach Gao Hongbo announced his resignation after a 2-0 defeat to Uzbekistan left the perennially underachieving side’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018 hanging by a thread, reports said Wednesday.
The loss in Tashkent left Team Dragon bottom of their third stage qualifying group for the next World Cup, with only one point from four games. Only the top three of the six contenders will progress.
“I will leave the national team because of poor health,” Gao told a press conference after the match, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Gao only took charge in February after Frenchman Alain Perrin was sacked following embarrassing performances including a draw with Hong Kong, and under him China squeaked into the third round.
But they endured a humiliating loss at home to war-torn Syria last week and their sole point came from a 0-0 draw with Iran.
Gao “failed to mould an effective formation nor playing style for the Chinese team”, Xinhua said, adding that while there were six matches left in the stage, “the performances of the Chinese team have not given the fans any hope”.
But many fans defended Gao on social media, blaming the Chinese Football Association and the players themselves for the team’s woes.
“The men’s team is like rotten meat, and the coach is like the fridge. The meat already stinks, but management doesn’t think to toss it out for fresh stuff, it just keeps changing the fridge,” wrote one user on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
Another wrote that “whenever the national team loses, they just want to switch coach, and always invite a foreign coach. It’s not a confident attitude — it has a bad impact on head coaches, players, local coaches … It’s just worshipping foreign things.”
Fans called for the sacking of China’s football association president Cai Zhenhau after the defeat to Syria, but he has ignored them so far.
Despite being the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, and money pouring into the domestic game after President Xi Jinping declared ambitions to host and one day win the World Cup, China remain a minnows on the global football stage.
Hosting the World Cup looks a far more realistic goal than winning the competition, as China’s sole appearance in 2002 ended without a single point or even a goal.
Chinese Super League clubs splashed more than 400 million euros ($447 million) on players this year, luring stars such as Liverpool target Alex Teixeira.
But the national side are currently ranked a lowly 78th in the world by FIFA.
Their next match is at home to 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar next month.
Gao, 50, is a former striker for the national team and previously managed the side in 2009-11, before being replaced by Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho on a lucrative contract.
Until his reappointment Gao was assistant coach at Dutch club ADO Den Haag.