China have sacked their Spanish manager, Jose Antonio Camacho, following an embarrassing defeat by Thailand 10 days ago that sparked nationwide anger.
Camacho, a former coach of Spain, was appointed two years ago on a contract worth €2.8 million (HK$28.4 million) a year, but lost 11 of his 20 matches in charge of the side, including the 5-1 upset by Thailand in a friendly in Hefei that was China's most lopsided loss against an Asian team and their worst result at home.
Guangzhou Evergrande's World Cup-winning Italian coach Marcello Lippi was immediately linked with the job, as was Serbian Ljubisa Tumbakovic, who won the Chinese Super League twice with Shandong Luneng and currently coaches Wuhan Zall.
"Having consulted with related parties and informed coach Camacho, the authority made a primary decision of terminating the co-operation with the Spaniard," the Chinese Football Association said.
The CFA said the hunt for Camacho's successor had started, even though his severance package had not been fixed.
China Central Television's sports channel said on Sunday it was likely to cost the association more than €7 million to pay out the coach and his support staff because they still had more than 14 months left on their contracts.
A senior editor with the channel said that ending Camacho's contract was only the first adjustment expected, and some officials and players would also feel the heat.
Camacho's arrival two years ago was supposed to herald a renaissance, with then vice-president Xi Jinping, a noted soccer fan, announcing just months before his appointment that he dreamt of a national men's team that could qualify for another World Cup and win it.
President Xi's remarks followed a major match-fixing crackdown that put dozens of senior officials, referees and players behind bars. The central government also ordered companies to front up the money for soccer clubs to bring in more foreign coaches and players. The loss to Thailand - on Xi's 60th birthday - shattered the dreams of many fans and pundits.
"Changing the coach cannot make a big difference," said Wu Celi, co-author of the book Inside Chinese Soccer. "The problem of Chinese soccer, like many other issues in the country, is that there is very little transparency. The embarrassing loss showed the corruption in Chinese soccer is hard to completely eradicate."
Under Camacho, the national team were knocked out early in qualifying for the World Cup and dropped 26 places in the rankings to 95, after hitting an all-time low of 109 in March.