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
A majority of more than 21,000 fans showed their discontent in a
public poll on Sina.com about Petrovic's dissection of the
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
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
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
"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
But he refused to give further information, claiming it would
hurt his future career.
(China Daily January 18, 2008)