Despite improved play in recent months, including yesterday's draw with Paraguay, China coach Gao Hongbo has urged fans to lower expectations for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
In friendly tune-ups for the January tournament in Qatar, China lost to Iran 2-0 last week, but drew with FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalists Paraguay 1-1 on Tuesday in front of 30,000 fans in Nanjing. Borussia Dortmund forward Lucas Barrios drew first blood in the opening minutes to give Paraguay a 1-0 lead, before China's youthful striker Gao Lin headed home the equaliser in the 34th minute.
"Paraguay is a world-class team - we played well today and we succeeded in containing their attack," coach Gao Hongbo said in post-match comments. "It was not so important to win or lose this match. I am happy that everyone overcame the pressure and that we were able to play our game."
Gao, who at 44 is the youngest man to coach China's national side, has put together a string of impressive performances since assuming his post in May 2009. China - who did not qualify for South Africa 2010 - shocked France 1-0 in a warm-up friendly, but in recent months Gao's charges have beaten Asian rivals Korea Republic and battled to draws against Germany and Japan.
His only defeats have come against Portugal and Iran. Still he cautioned against overconfidence and insists his only goal is to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. "We have set our sights on the 2014 World Cup. The Asian Cup is only a warm-up for the World Cup," Gao told state media. "Chinese soccer has been on a downhill path over the past six years... people should lower their expectations."
As the seventh man to take the helm in China since 2000, Gao was hired after the national side failed to qualify for South Africa and went winless in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Football Tournament.