Singapore: Veteran Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho's tenure as China boss suffered another blow on Wednesday as his misfiring side were beaten 2-1 away by Saudi Arabia in their opening 2015 Asian Cup qualifier.
The 57-year-old former Spain and Real Madrid handler has come under increasing pressure since China crashed out of World Cup qualifying and losing four friendlies since June last year, including an 8-0 drubbing by Brazil, winning just once.
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.
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.
Earlier Javad Nekounam starred with a hat-trick as 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, slotted penalties 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 Asian Cup's next edition in early 2015.
The top two teams from each of five qualifying groups go through, along with the best third-placed team.
Iran's closest group 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.
An early own goal rocked Thailand, beaten in December's AFF Suzuki Cup decider by Singapore, and second-half strikes by Hussain Fadhel and Hamad Aman put them virtually out of contention before Chanathip Songkrasin's late consolation.
Earlier, the United Arab Emirates opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over battling Vietnam, and 10-man Hong Kong held Uzbekistan 0-0 in Tashkent.
The UAE got off the mark with an early penalty, put away by Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil, but Vietnam's busy efforts to get back into the game paid off on the hour-mark when Huynh Quoc Anh made it all square.
However, Habib Fardan put the visitors back in front only seven minutes later and it was to prove decisive as UAE took an early lead in Group E and deflated the home fans at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium.
In the Uzbek capital, Hong Kong turned up with an injury-depleted squad and the outlook looked even bleaker for Kim Pan-Gon's men when midfielder Lo Kwan Yee was sent off after 58 minutes.
But the visitors held firm against against the Uzbek attack to escape the difficult fixture with a precious point.
Story first published on: Thursday, 07 February 2013 09:00 IST