SINGAPORE - Jose Antonio Camacho leads misfiring China into 2015 Asian Cup qualifying Wednesday under pressure to end a run of poor results and avoid becoming Asia's latest coaching casualty.
Camacho's lofty CV includes stints with Real Madrid and Spain, but the Spaniard has work to do, starting against Saudi Arabia in Dammam, if he wants to avoid joining Zico and Frank Rijkaard on Asia's list of discarded coaches.
The Spaniard signed a lucrative deal in August 2011 but China crashed out of World Cup qualifying just three months later. Since June last year they have lost four friendlies, including an 8-0 drubbing by Brazil, winning just once.
Last week there were howls from Chinese media after the national team lost 1-0 to an under-strength Oman.
Now, 18 months into Camacho's reign, China take to the field at Dammam's Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Stadium with the coach's future very much in the balance.
"Camacho is being paid very well but the team's results under him have not been as good as they were under his predecessor Gao Hongbo," said journalist Zhao Zhen, who covers the national team for China's weekly Soccer News.
"The CFA's (China Football Association) minimum target is to qualify for Australia so it will be very important to see something positive in the first two games of the qualifiers."
China have been placed in a tough Group C alongside the Saudis and 2007 champions Iraq, but failing to qualify for the competition in Australia would be a disaster after they reached the final rounds of the past 10 editions.
With the top three from the 2011 tournament - Japan, Australia and South Korea - given automatic spots, the two best teams from each of five qualifying groups, along with the best third-placed side, gain entry.
Also playing in Australia will be 2012 AFC Challenge Cup champions North Korea and the winners of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.
Recent months have seen some big names depart Asian sides after Iraq dropped Brazilian legend Zico in November, and the Saudis dumped Rijkaard in January after he failed to steer them past the group phase of the Gulf Cup of Nations.
And with Wei Di, who championed the appointment of Camacho, replaced last month as the CFA's chief, the Spaniard quickly needs results.
His cause has also not been helped by the withdrawal of central defender Feng Xiaoting with a pulled thigh muscle. But CFA vice-president Yu Hongchen has insisted he still has faith in Camacho and his team.
"We are a team and I believe coach Camacho and the coaching team can handle this. The Asian Cup qualifying is a six-match run so we will do our best against the Saudis," said Yu.
Camacho will find himself face-to-face with a fellow Spaniard on Wednesday after Juan Ramon Lopez Caro was appointed to replace Rijkaard as head coach of Saudi Arabia, three-time Asian champions, last month.
Lopez Caro has been tasked with reviving a team that reached the Asian final in six of the seven tournaments from 1984 to 2007, but lost all three matches at Qatar 2011.
Iraq will host Indonesia in the other Group C match in Dubai led by new coach Hakeem Shaker, who replaced Zico and has already taken them to the West Asian Championship and Gulf Cup finals.
In Group A, Jordan kick off their campaign against Southeast Asian champions Singapore, and Oman play West Asian title-holders Syria.
Three-time Asian champions Iran face Lebanon in Group B, while Thailand will host Kuwait in Bangkok.
Qatar play Malaysia and Yemen face Bahrain in Sharjah in Group D, while Group E features matches between Uzbekistan and Hong Kong, and Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.