BEIJING • China's national football coach Gao Hongbo announced his resignation after a 2-0 defeat by Uzbekistan left the perennially underachieving side's hopes of reaching Russia 2018 hanging by a thread.
The loss in Tashkent on Tuesday left Team Dragon bottom of their third stage qualifying group for the next World Cup, with only one point from four games.
Despite being the world's most populous country and second-largest economy, and money pouring into the domestic game after President Xi Jinping declared ambitions to host and one day win the World Cup, China remain minnows on the global football stage.
"I will leave the national team because of poor health," Gao told a press conference after the Uzbekistan match.
But he acknowledged discussing his future with Chinese Football Association bosses before the game, according to the Asian Football Confederation website.
"We agreed if we couldn't reach a positive result against Uzbekistan I would stand down from my post," it quoted the 50-year-old as saying.
"As a result of this defeat, I bring an end to my time in charge of the China national team."
Under Gao, China squeaked into the third round of World Cup qualifying, but they endured a humiliating loss at home to war-torn Syria last week and their sole point so far came from a 0-0 draw with Iran.
Many fans defended Gao on social media, blaming the Chinese Football Association and the players themselves for the woes of the team, who are ranked a lowly 78th in the world by Fifa.
"The men's team is like rotten meat, and the coach is like the fridge. The meat already stinks, but management doesn't think to toss it out for fresh stuff, it just keeps changing the fridge," wrote one user on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
Since 2000, the team have had 10 coaches, five of them European and five Chinese.
Earlier this year, Beijing issued a plan to make Team Dragon one of the world's top sides by 2050, promising 20,000 academies and 30 million elementary and middle school pupils and students playing the sport within four years.
But despite official backing and huge spending by domestic club owners, the national team's travails make hosting the World Cup look a far more realistic goal than winning the competition, as China's sole appearance in the 2002 Finals ended without a single point or even a goal.
China's next match is at home to 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar next month.