China PR begins its long qualification march to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in bizarre fashion today, with the national team splitting into two sides to play three friendlies in the coming week.
Team A will play New Zealand tonight in the city of Wuhan and later face Honduras there on Tuesday, while head coach Gao Hongbo is already in Costa Rica to lead Team B in a match against that country on Sunday.
The double-teaming comes after Gao invited a total of 40 players to train for the national side ahead of FIFA World Cup qualifying, which begins in late June.
In China PR's first and only appearance in a FIFA World Cup in 2002, the team failed to win a match or even score during the event, jointly hosted by Japan and Korea Republic.
Their failure to reach the knockout stages of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Doha two months ago further deepened fan frustration over the inability of the world's most populous nation to succeed in the world's most popular sport.
According to China PR's Titan Sports Weekly, the splitting of the team was due to a scheduling conflict after Costa Rica invited China PR to play in the maiden event at its new National Stadium in San Jose - built with Chinese aid.
"Our main plan is to give the fans an exciting match. I'm not too worried about the score," Gao told the paper.
Gao, 45, the youngest person to coach China PR's national team, was tasked with qualifying for Brazil 2014 when he took the helm in May 2009.
He has overseen a steady rise up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking from 108 to a current position of 76, but his team's Asian Cup performance has left fans with few expectations for the upcoming campaign.