China coach Zhu Guanghu hopes to save his job in the Asian Cup.
In truth, it may be too late.
China has taken several batterings going into the continental championship: a
2-0 loss to Australia, a 1-0 defeat by a weak Thailand, and 4-1 loss to the
United States against a patchwork American team.
Zhu acknowledges he's been told by Chinese soccer officials to get to the
final four - or else - in the Asian Cup, where China plays in Group C against
Malaysia, Iran and Uzbekistan.
Shadowing Zhu's failure has been the success of China's under-23 coach
Ratomir Dujkovic, who took over the Olympic team after leading Ghana to the
second round of last year's World Cup in Germany.
Dujkovic's team has been winning, and some guess the Serbian coach will
eventually take over the national team no matter what Zhu does in Malaysia.
Local newspapers are taking sides - against Zhu and in favor to Dujkovic.
"It is clear the national team has not made any improvement and the tactics
and style of play are still a mess under Zhu," the Beijing Evening News said.
Titan Sports offered this: "Nobody is optimistic about the national team's
prospects at the Asian Cup ... It's up to the China Football Association to make
the right decision and replace (Zhu) as soon as possible."
Zhu has been under pressure since taking over in March 2005 for Arie Haan,
who quit after his team failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. China has
reached only the World Cup finals only once, but lost all three games and failed
to score in the 2002 event co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
Still, Zhu claims victories aren't far off.
"I have to take responsibility for the defeats," he said after losing to the
Americans. "But I believe we are always improving and it will not take long for
us to win a match."
Playmaking midfielder Shao Jiayi, who plays in Germany for Energie Cottbus,
has also tried to sound optimistic, picking China among the tournament favorites
along with Australia, South Korea, Iran and Japan. Japan is the defending
champion, beating China 3-1 in the 2004 final when the Chinese were tournament
"Losing in pre-tournament friendlies is n also named Manchester United's Dong
Fangzhuo among five forwards.
The major absence from the team is out-of-form Li Jinyu, a top scorer with
Chinese Super League champions Shandong Luneng. He scored 26 goals last season.
China Squad: Goalkeepers: Li Leilei, Yang Jun; Defenders: Du Wei, Sun Xiang,
Zhang Yaokun, Li Weifeng, Sun Jihai, Zhang Shuai, Ji Mingyi, Cao Yang;
Midfielders: Shao Jiayi, Li Tie, Zheng Zhi, Zhao Xuri, Wang Dong, Zhou Haibin,
Zheng Bin, Mao Jianqing; Forwards: Han Peng, Dong Fangzhuo, Zhu Ting, Qu Bo,
Wang Peng. Extras: Xin Feng, Li Yan, Xu Yunlong, Du Zhenyu, Tao Wei, Chen Dong,