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With aura diminishing, volleyball coach under fire
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The China sports community is licking its wounds again after the once-proud women's volleyball team was upset by minnows Thailand in the Asian Championship final on Sunday.

Following a string of poor results from the men's basketball and soccer teams, national pride was expected to be boosted by coach Cai Bin's volleyball side, even though it had also suffered a series of defeats in the past three months.

"We were here (Hanoi, Vietnam) to win the title. It was our target but we did not make it," said a depressed Cai, who surprisingly replaced highly-favored Olympic gold medal winning coach Chen Zhonghe in March.

The 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-23 loss to Thailand was China's first to their Asian foes.

"I am sorry about the result. We did our best but we did not reach our expectations," Cai said.

Failing to capitalize on a huge size advantage over Thailand, whose tallest player stands only 1.80m, fans and media immediately linked Cai to embattled men's basketball coach Guo Shiqiang and called for his dismissal.

"The coach is the target of overwhelming criticism and fans really want to eat the 'vegetable-stuffed bun' (Cai's name can be interpreted to mean vegetable and weak)," said the Sichuan-based Chengdu Business Daily.

The Beijing Youth Daily's headline read "Women's volleyball hits rock bottom" after the team's 11 losses in the past three months.

"The defeat shows China is farther away from the world's elite clubs. We are even slipping in Asia. It's terrible," said the newspaper. "Cai's future is definitely in doubt."

According to a public poll on sports.sina.com, 86 percent of people believe Cai is not capable of taking the women's volleyball team to a higher level. Only 11 percent said the players did not perform up to par.

China have struggled for form since winning the 2004 Olympic Games' gold due to retirements and injuries to key players.

Former coach Chen led a injury-plagued team to a bronze-medal finish at last year's Olympics. However, he failed to keep the job after the Beijing Games and the team has struggled under Cai's guidance.

China suffered their worst result in FIVB Grand Prix finals history in Japan late last month; claiming only one win from five games and losing to unfancied opponents Germany and Poland.

Hold on

Meanwhile, the 42-year-old coach says he accepts the criticism.

"There is always big pressure as a coach. I will face the pressure and I will not run from it."

Adding to Cai's determination is trust from the sport's governing body.

"The first year is to test the new coach," said Li Quanqiang, deputy director of the Chinese Volleyball Administrative Center. "It's not right for fans to call for his sacking. Everyone on the team should take responsibility. We should not blame every problem on the coach. We need time to deal with the problems. We will give the coach and players one year to make the necessary adjustments."

Li also said China had slipped behind at the grassroots level and promised to pay extra attention to the development of reserves.

(China Daily September 15, 2009)

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