Veteran Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho’s tenure as China boss suffered another blow on Wednesday as his misfiring side were beaten 2-1 away by Saudi Arabia in their opening 2015 Asian Cup qualifier.
The former Spain and Real Madrid coach has come under increasing pressure since China crashed out of World Cup qualifying and lost four friendlies since June last year, including an 8-0 drubbing by Brazil, winning just once.
His Saudi counterpart, compatriot Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, however, will be delighted as his side won in his first competitive game in charge since replacing Frank Rijkaard, who was sacked last month.
The hosts took the lead through Fahad al-Muwallad in the 23rd minute only for China to level six minutes later as Zhao Xuri shot home from the edge of the area.
However, the visitors could not hold out and the Saudis took the points thanks to a goal by Naif Hazzazi 13 minutes from time.
China have reached the last 10 Asian Cup finals, but with 2007 champions Iraq having begun with a 1-0 home win over Indonesia they face a tough task to make it 11.
Earlier Javad Nekounam starred with a hat-trick as Iran kick-started their qualifying campaign with a 5-0 victory over Lebanon.
He slotted penalties either side of halftime and added the hosts’ final goal, while Reza Ghoochannejhad weighed in with a brace in Tehran.
The rousing win made Iran early favorites to join Japan, host nation Australia and South Korea, who finished first, second and third in 2011, at the Asian Cup’s next edition in early 2015.
The top two teams from each of five qualifying groups go through, plus the best third-placed team.
Iran’s closest group rivals on the opening match day were Kuwait, who made Thailand suffer in front of their own fans with a 3-1 victory in Bangkok.
Earlier, the United Arab Emirates opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over battling Vietnam, and 10-man Hong Kong held Uzbekistan 0-0 in Tashkent.