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.
The loss in Tashkent on Tuesday left the Chinese 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.
Despite money pouring into the domestic football scene and President Xi Jinping’s desires to host and one day win the World Cup, China remain minnows of the global game.
China has only ever qualified for one World Cup – in South Korea in 2002 – and currently stand 78th in the FIFA world rankings.
“I will leave the national team because of poor health,” Gao said at a press conference after the Uzbekistan match, the official Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.
But he acknowledged discussing his future with Chinese Football Association bosses before the game, according to the Asian Football Confederation website.
“We agreed if we couldn’t reach a positive result against Uzbekistan I would stand down from my post,” it quoted him as saying.
“As a result of this defeat, I bring an end to my time in charge of the China national team.”
Gao, a former striker for the national team, previously managed the side in 2009-11 and was reappointed in February, after Frenchman Alain Perrin was sacked following embarrassing performances including a draw with Hong Kong.
Under Gao, China squeaked into the third round of World Cup qualifying, but they endured a humiliating loss at home to war-torn Syria last week and their sole point so far came from a 0-0 draw with Iran.
“I hope the China national team will be better in the future and we will meet in football again,” Gao said.
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.
Gao’s brief tenure is even shorter than the average – since 2000 the side has had 10 coaches, five of them European and five Chinese.