BEIJING: China boss Jose Antonio Camacho will hope a sprinkling of stardust from the visiting David Beckham will rub off on his team as he fights for his job in Friday’s crunch Asian Cup qualifier with Iraq.
Critics have lined up to savage the former Spain and Real Madrid handler 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, who is on his first trip to China in his role as an “ambassador” for the country’s football, has had his share of fairytale wins but Friday’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 also read poorly for China, who are bidding to win 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.
But China will draw hope from Camacho’s call-up of Chen Zhizhao, 25. The skilful and pacey 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 on Saturday 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 dismissal of China.
On Friday, 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 next Tuesday when group front-runners Kuwait and Iran meet in Kuwait City. – AFP
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