Chinese dragon breathing fire again
© AFP

Zhao Peng headed home the only goal as China PR defeated Jamaica at home in a downpour a little over a fortnight ago. That friendly triumph, allied with their 6-1 second-leg 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying victory over Laos, saw the east Asians continue their upward trajectory on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, moving four places to 69.

This position, China’s highest since the inception of the new ranking methodology in July 2006, came as a timely boost ahead of their Brazil 2014 opener against Singapore on 2 September in Asia's third qualifying round.

The Jamaica win, their sixth victory in a row, proved a fitting finale to the two-year stint of coach Gao Hongbo, who was recently replaced by Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho. Under the former national team striker, China racked up 23 wins and 11 draws across 39 matches. The impressive tally of results saw China earn a move of 28 places during Gao’s tenure, which commenced in May 2009.

Progressive era
Gao’s appointment came in the wake of China’s disastrous campaign for South Africa 2010, during which they once again failed to reach the continent’s final round. Desperate to rebuild lost credibility, Gao got his spell off to an impressive start as his new-look side drew 1-1 against Germany, before seeing off Iran 1-0 in a friendly.

Despite falling to Saudi Arabia 4-1, his charges bounced back with an 11-match unbeaten run, but his best moment was yet to come. In the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) Championship in February last year, China held hosts Japan to a goalless draw, before firing three unanswered goals past Korea Republic to end a 32-year winless streak against their neighbours. China then went to clinch the regional title with a 2-0 defeat of Hong Kong.

A 1-0 friendly win over France just prior to South Africa 2010 came as another feather in Gao’s hat. Despite a failure to progress beyond the group stage at January’s AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, their 2-0 opening victory over Kuwait and 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan secured a four-place rise to 75 in the global rankings, and into Asia’s top five.

With so many talents from which I can make selections, I am confident that we can make it to Brazil 2014.
New China coach Jose Antonio Camacho

The world’s most populous nation have not looked back since, maintaining their fifth zonal place with a series of competent displays. Their reward soon became evident, with China seeded alongside Japan, Australia, Korea Republic and Iran in the preliminary draw for Brazil 2014, thus avoiding a collision with the continent’s elite.

The draw indeed proved kinder than four years earlier, with China placed into a group that also features Iraq and Jordan. Despite laying the foundation for China’s progress, Gao made way for Camacho, who led Spain to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Having also managed a host of La Liga sides over the past two decades, Camacho is optimistic of steering China to their second FIFA World Cup appearance. "China are a well-disciplined team and are able to play tactically well," said the former Real Madrid boss. "And with so many talents from which I can make selections, I am confident that we can make it to Brazil 2014.”