Jose Antonio Camacho takes China into crunch Asian Cup tie with Iraq
Second straight defeat would risk elimination and leave Spanish coach clinging onto his job
The pressure is mounting on China coach Jose Antonio Camacho, with defeat against Iraq at Changsha's Helong Sports Centre tonight in the qualifying rounds of the AFC Asian Cup likely to spell the end of the Spaniard's 19-month reign at the helm of the national side.
Speculation has been mounting that the former Real Madrid coach's days were numbered since China lost to Saudi Arabia in their opening qualifier last month, with ex-national team boss Gao Hongbo rumoured to be waiting in the wings.
With only two teams progressing to the finals in Australia in 2015 from the four-team group, which also features Indonesia, avoiding defeat is the least of the requirements for Camacho. But the 57-year-old has stressed that he will not resign should his team suffer a second straight loss in the qualifying campaign.
"I will fight until the last second that qualification is a possibility," Camacho told the media ahead of the match, which could see former Hong Kong-based midfielder Chen Zhizhao make his first start. "And the rest of it won't be up to me. It is up to the CFA. But I can sense that you don't expect that much."
Camacho's record since taking over has been poor, with the most disappointing aspect being the team's inability to progress to the final stages of Asia's qualifying tournament for the 2014 Fifa World Cup finals in Brazil.
Adding spice to the already intriguing fixture against Iraq is the presence of former China head coach Vladimir Petrovic in the opposing dugout, after the Serb was appointed last month as the long-term replacement for Brazilian Zico, who quit late last year.
During his time in charge of China, Petrovic - working alongside Ratomir Dujkovic - oversaw a shambolic attempt to qualify for the 2010 World Cup before being shown the door, and there would be no lack of irony if he were to mastermind a result that ultimately saw Camacho suffer a similar fate.