Veteran Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho's tenure as China boss suffered another blow as his misfiring side were beaten 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in their opening 2015 Asian Cup qualifier.
The 57-year-old former Spain and Real Madrid coach has come under increasing pressure after China crashed out of World Cup qualifying and lost four friendlies since June last year, including an 8-0 drubbing by Brazil. They won just once.
The hosts took the lead through Fahad Al Muwallad in the 23rd minute only for China to level six minutes later as Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Zhao Xuri shot home from the edge of the area after being set up by Yu Hanchao.
However, the visitors could not hold out and three-time champions Saudi took the points thanks to a goal by substitute Naif Hazzazi 13 minutes from time. China have reached the last 10 Asian Cup finals but with 2007 champions Iraq having begun with a 1-0 home win over Indonesia, they face a tough task to make it 11 in Australia. Camacho said: "We came to Saudi Arabia and we were hoping to get the three points, but unfortunately we were unlucky.
"We tried our best to win the match but we made some mistakes and we couldn't create chances to score goals like Saudi Arabia did.
"In the second half we also made some mistakes. The players gave their best but things didn't go our way."
His Saudi counterpart, compatriot Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, however, will be delighted as his side won in his first competitive game in charge since replacing Frank Rijkaard, who was sacked last month after a poor showing at the Gulf Cup. Lopez Caro said: "I'm so happy with the result. We won the match and I'm so glad that the players fought until the end of the game and they made all the fans who attended the game very pleased with the performance and result.
"I would like to congratulate the players for their performance as they worked very well and they did a great job as a team and also on the individual level.
"The match was hard for the two teams, who were disciplined and tried their best to win the match.
"We tried our best to control the game and create scoring chances and we managed to score and win the match."
In the other group C match, Iraq dominated against a defensive Indonesia at the neutral Al Rashid Stadium in Dubai but had to be content with a 1-0 victory.
Meanwhile, Javad Nekounam starred with a hat-trick as the three-time champions Iran kick-started their qualifying campaign with a crushing 5-0 victory over Lebanon.
The ex-Osasuna man, now with Iran's Esteghlal, ascored from the penalty spot either side of half-time and added the hosts' fifth and final goal while Standard Liege striker Reza Ghoochannejhad weighed in with a brace at Tehran's Azadi Stadium.
The rousing win made Iran early favourites to join Japan, host nation Australia and South Korea - who finished first, second and third in 2011 - at the 2015 tournament.
The top two teams from each of five qualifying groups go through, along with the best third-placed team.
Iran's closest group B rivals on the opening match day were Kuwait, who made Southeast Asian runners-up Thailand suffer in front of their own fans with a 3-1 victory in Bangkok.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters