China boss Jose Antonio Camacho hopes a sprinkling of stardust from the visiting David Beckham will rub off on his team as he fights for his job in today’s crunch Asian Cup qualifier with Iraq.
Critics have lined up to savage the former Spain and Real Madrid boss after China crashed out of World Cup qualifying, lost a series of friendlies and were beaten by Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener last month.
Now Chinese media say only a win will do as Camacho leads his players out in Changsha with Guangzhou Evergrande’s World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, his mooted replacement, watching from the stands.
“We are under pressure after the first loss. Every game is significant for us now,” admitted the Spaniard, according to the China Daily. “It’s the national team and we have the responsibility to try our best. In Changsha, we must win.”
Beckham, is on his first trip to China in his role as an “ambassador” for the country’s soccer.
“I’m not here to clean up anything. I’m here to educate the children and give them a chance to become professional footballers,” Beckham, dressed in a smart grey suit and tie, said during his first appearance as ambassador at a Beijing primary school.
Beckham has had his share of fairytale wins, but today’s plot is shaping as a horror story for Camacho.
His opposite number is Vladimir Petrovic, a former China coach who was sacked after he failed to steer the team to the 2010 World Cup — with defeat to Iraq a contributing factor.
Petrovic now has the chance to exact poetic revenge as he returns to China, where he also coached double-winning Dalian Shide, for his first game with Iraq following the departure of Zico and interim manager Hakeem Shaker.
The statistics read poorly for China, who are bidding to end a six-game winless run and have also not beaten Iraq in their last six meetings since the 2004 Asian Cup quarter-finals on home soil.
A weak youth system, along with rampant corruption, has been blamed in part for the Chinese national team’s poor international results. The country has only played once at the World Cup, in 2002
However, China will draw hope from Camacho’s call-up of Chen Zhizhao, 25. The skilful and pacy winger has sparkled on loan at Brazil’s Corinthians, where fans have christened him “Zizao” in reference to French legend Zinedine Zidane.
This week’s other Group C game will take place tomorrow in Jakarta where three-time Asian Cup winners Saudi Arabia will be looking to continue their excellent start under Juan Lopez Caro when they face Indonesia.
Lopez Caro replaced Frank Rijkaard in January after the team flopped at the Gulf Cup and the Spaniard has won his first two matches, with a 4-1 victory against Malaysia on Sunday following February’s 2-1 defeat of China.
Today, joint Group D front-runners Bahrain and Qatar will face off in Manama with both teams trying to build on solid opening wins last month.
Uzbekistan, who finished fourth at the 2011 Asian Cup, will be keen to bounce back from a dismal 0-0 draw against 10-man Hong Kong when they visit Abu Dhabi to face Group E leaders United Arab Emirates, who edged Vietnam 2-1 last month.
In Group B, Lebanon host Thailand in Beirut, but the big match will take place on Tuesday when group front-runners Kuwait and Iran meet in Kuwait City.