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Drastic changes made in Chinese soccer team
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There is a well-known saying in China when the future hangs in the balance: "Meet all changes by remaining unchanged."


But the nation's soccer team, it seems, has no use for ancient maxims as coach Vladimir Petrovic guts the team just a few weeks before the opening of the 2010 World Cup Asian Zone Qualifiers against a tough Iraq side.


Petrovic, who took the post only four months ago, has replaced most of the team assembled by his predecessor Zhu Guanghu, who was sacked after China was eliminated from the Asian Cup. The Serb launched a nationwide search for his own men, calling up many new faces unknown to most fans and media.


The dramatic reshuffle continued during the latest warm-up session when he axed seven players from his squad in the wake of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of German Bundesliga side SV Hamburg over the weekend.


Team officials said more changes are likely to come before the final list for the qualifying competitions is announced.


A chorus of pessimism has sung out from the headlines since China was drawn into the "group of death" for the third-round World Cup qualifier in the Asian Zone, a group that also includes former Oceania champion Australia, Asian Cup champion Iraq and Asian Games champion Qatar.


A majority of more than 21,000 fans showed their discontent in a public poll on Sina.com about Petrovic's dissection of the team.


Seventy-four percent of respondents said there is no sign of improvement from the newly built squad, while 90 percent are unsatisfied with China's latest two matches, which also included a lackluster 0-0 draw to the United Arab Emirates. Only 4 percent of respondents believe China will be able to make it to the next round.


Dreams slipping away


Four months ago, people were hopeful Petrovic, the former coach of Super League champion Dalian, could lead China out of the wilderness. But with inconsistent tactics on the pitch and a rotating starting lineup, surviving the group of death appears less and less likely, let alone the World Cup finals in South Africa.


Adding to the team's woe is the fact that pivotal players based overseas like Charlton Athletic striker Zheng Zhi and Bundesliga club Cottbus midfielder Shao Jiayi will not join the team until just before the first fixture.


"New faces come and go. The best players from Europe have no time to get to know the team. We get rid of good defenders even though the team always struggles with defense. We do not see any hope for this team's World Cup qualifier prospective," said a commentary in Titan Sports.


The latest housecleaning included regular international defenders Du Wei and Zhang Yaokun.


Lu Bofei, Li Jianhua, Sun Ji, Wang Wanpeng and Yang Lin were also cut after "serious consideration by the coaching staff", according to a statement posted on the website of the Chinese Football Association (www.fa.org.cn).


Reports said Du and Zhang showed disrespect to the coaching staff and had a negative effect on the team's unity, which cost them their international opportunities.


But CFA official Wei Shaohui denied that was the reason for the players' dismissal.


"These players failed to reach the standard during training and warm-up competitions. Especially Zhang and Du, we had great expectations of them but they failed to make it," Wei said. "If we're not strict, not ruthless at this stage, how will we be able to take on the World Cup and qualify?"


But local media questioned China's ability to find replacements in time to jell as a team ahead of the Iraq qualifier.


"It's unknown whether this is to dupe the opposition or just to fool ourselves," a commentary in the Beijing News said. "Du and Zhang have proven they are the best players in the backfield in the domestic league. We do not see any reason to dump them."


Wei insisted cutting Du and Zhang was a good way to motivate the remaining players to work even harder.


But reports suggested the atmosphere in the locker room is cold and heavy since they left.


"There was very good relationships among teammates before. But now there is nothing left. They are numb about the changes," a player, who refused to be identified, told Sina.com.


Another player told the website the two defenders' dismissal is a result of some "unknown" reasons rather than their sub-par performances.


But he refused to give further information, claiming it would hurt his future career.


(China Daily January 18, 2008)

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