KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - China coach Zhu Guanghu says months of loud criticism by fans and media galvanised his team, resulting in their 5-1 demolition of Asian Cup co-hosts Malaysia.
The margin of victory on Tuesday was as surprising as it was emphatic after a torrid build-up by China, who lost to Australia, the United States and Thailand before locking themselves away for a month of training.
"I think this result is not to counter the critics. It's good we are criticised -- it will only drive us to do a better job," Zhu said.
"This is just the first match, we will try to improve in the other matches."
Han Peng and Wang Dong both scored twice and Energie Cottbus midfielder Shao Jiayi also found the net as China emerged from their recent troubles to install themselves as early title contenders.
Favourites Australia and defending champions Japan have both got off to slow starts in the Southeast Asian heat, drawing with lower-ranked opposition in their opening matches.
"The biggest plus point from the game is that my team played with a great rhythm especially considering the weather conditions," said Zhu.
China reached the 2004 final but have slumped since, missing last year's World Cup and dropping down the FIFA rankings.
Angry fans have attacked Zhu's car and chanted for his resignation, while he has been lampooned as a "clown" in state media and reportedly faces the sack if China fail to reach the semi-finals.
"This is just the start, it was the first match and we have two more matches. I think the final result of the group is what matters," Zhu said, praising his foreign-based players.
"We called back overseas players like Sun Jihai, Zheng Zhi and Shao Jiayi and they controlled midfield and organised our attacks, so they were the key players."
He also said China needed to make improvements with tough Group C matches coming up against Iran and Uzbekistan. Malaysia are the tournament's lowest-ranked side.
"The most important thing was that Malaysia scored -- that was a little bit of a problem," Zhu said.
"I will find out why we lost this goal and do a better job in the next match."
Zhu added that intensive training following last month's 4-1 loss to the United States had paid off. China had not played a full international friendly since the June 2 defeat.
"It showed good preparation from the Hong Kong training camp as well as at the national training centre, so our fitness level is very good," he said.
China, ranked only seventh in Asia, take on regional heavyweights Iran on Sunday and Uzbekistan on Wednesday.
|7||Muhamad Khaironnisam Sahabudin|
|5||Mohd Norhafiz Zamani|
for Shahrulnizam 46'
for Mohd Fadzli 58'
for Akmal Rizal 62'
|Ribery ready for Bayern Munich comeback|
|Celtic fined for Manchester City crowd trouble|
|Vardy´s goal decline and Mahrez´s assist struggles: The Opta stats behind Ranieri´s Leicester demise|
|Bayern boss Ancelotti vows never to repeat middle finger gesture|
|Medel urges Sanchez to quit Arsenal for Inter|
|Europa League draw: Manchester United to play Rostov, Lyon v Roma|
|Aubameyang dry spell worries me - Tuchel|
|Varane a doubt for Napoli as Real Madrid confirm muscle injury|
|Leicester job favourite Mancini: I am sorry for my friend Ranieri|
|Allegri welcomes back Bonucci following apology|
|Montella targets lengthy AC Milan stay|
|Lineker cries after Ranieri is sacked|
|Ranieri sacking ´the biggest shock in a decade´|
|Wenger ´witch-hunt´ has gone too far, says Bilic|
|Lewandowski better than Benzema, Suarez, Costa - Matthaus|
|Sticks and Stones may break my bones - Man City defender unhurt by criticism|
|Atletico Madrid v Barcelona: Simeone´s men primed to land on punch-drunk Barca|
|Pogba no machine like Messi or Ronaldo, says Mata|
|Oxlade-Chamberlain adamant Arsenal ´more than capable of competing for title´|
|Monaco star Falcao was almost lost to baseball|
|FC Dallas 4 Arabe Unido 0: Champions League semis beckon for Americans|
|No gratitude in football - Spalletti saddened by Ranieri sacking|
|Alli not to blame for Tottenham´s Europa League exit - Pochettino|
|Mourinho pays tribute to axed Leicester boss Ranieri|
|Europa League Review: Spurs crash out, Stindl stuns Fiorentina, Lyon destroy AZ in record-equalling|
|Bastia punished over Balotelli abuse|
|Eriksen blames Tottenham´s shock Europa League exit on poor finishing|
|Ranieri sacking a brutal reminder of football´s necessary lack of sentiment|
|Tottenham 2 Gent 2 (2-3 agg): Alli sent off as Kane own goal sends Spurs out|
|Jokanovic signs new Fulham deal|
|Serie A top three setting ´incredible´ pace, says Eder|
|Ranieri sacked by Leicester City|
|Coutinho: Klopp lets us do whatever we want|
|Lampard to be honoured with Chelsea tribute|
|Bolasie set for second knee surgery|
|Rooney rejects Chinese fortune to stay at United|
|Falcao has silenced his critics - Jardim|
|Clement backs Mawson to shackle Chelsea stars ahead of ´special´ Stamford Bridge return|
|Happiness more important than money - Bacca rejects new China approach|
|Lewandowski the perfect number nine, says Jancker|
|Digne tips PSG for fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title|
|Cedric thinks Euro 2016 final will help against Manchester United|
|Infantino praises progress on Qatar 2022 worker conditions|
|Manchester United have strength in depth to win quadruple, says Young|
|Ibrahimovic on PSG´s Barca victory: Win or lose, they talk about me|
|Robbery, Thiago irreplaceable at Bayern - Matthaus|
|Griezmann will ´definitely´ join Manchester United, claims Petit|
|Manchester United selling Rooney now would be odd - Neville|
|Rooney named China´s fifth most popular player, Ronaldo on top|
|Payet always loved Marseille - Digne|
|Arsenal midfielder Cazorla set to miss rest of season|
|Alba wants Isco at Barcelona|
|Bilic worried injuries will derail Carroll´s England hopes|
|Aguero ability was never in doubt for Fernandinho|
|Nani thigh injury tempers Valencia´s Real Madrid joy|
|Matip confident Liverpool will make top four|
|Rooney still has the quality to play in Europe, says Bilic|
|Koscielny wants Wenger to stay at Arsenal|
|Pogba record will soon be broken - Kahn|
|Ramos hurting but calm after Real Madrid´s Valencia setback|
|De Boer would love to manage in the Premier League|
|Wenger criticism is impossible - Nasri defends embattled Arsenal boss|
|It´s good to talk - Sagna urges better communication from Manchester City defence|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Vargas scores as Tigres UANL are held|
|Jovetic: We were much better than Leicester|
|Victory star Berisha set to debut for Kosovo|
|Pjaca keen for more chances after first Juve goal|
|Allegri hails ´champion´ Alves|
|´Going to China? Madness´ – Keane urges Rooney to stay in Europe|
|Nuno rues Telles red as Porto retain hope|
|Socceroos to host Brazil in Melbourne|
|Sampaoli rues Schmeichel heroics|
|Sevilla president unimpressed by ´unjust´ winning margin|
|Allegri praises Pjaca for attitude change|
|Mkhitaryan keeping fingers crossed over injury|
|Casillas left frustrated by Alex Telles red card|
|Anything can happen at King Power Stadium – Away goal lifts Schmeichel|
|Ranieri hails Leicester´s ´big heart´ in Sevilla loss|
|Krasnodar celebrate eighth anniversary by eliminating Fenerbahce|
|Home bird Rooney not suited to China - Phil Neville|
|Ramos rejects claims of bad Real Madrid attitude|
|Porto 0 Juventus 2: Substitutes Pjaca and Alves give Bianconeri command|
|Sevilla 2 Leicester City 1: Vardy´s strike tees up second leg after Schmeichel heroics|
|Madrid lead is not worth anything – Zidane|
|Dropped Bonucci must adapt to the rules – Marotta|
|I cannot do what Man City did at Chelsea - Mourinho withering over FA Cup schedule|
|Marcelo: Real Madrid must learn from horror start at Valencia|
|Manchester United head to Wembley brimming with confidence – Smalling|
|Valencia 2 Real Madrid 1: Zaza stunner hands title hope to Barcelona|
|Manchester United duo Mkhitaryan and Carrick set to miss EFL Cup final|
|Alba: Luis Enrique the best coach for Barca|
|Sorry for that poor guy - Sane apologises after costing punter huge windfall|
|Saint-Etienne 0 Manchester United 1 (0-4 agg): Mkhitaryan on target before injury scare|
|Kessie dreaming of Manchester United move|
|Kane refuses to blame ´incredible´ Wembley for Champions League exit|
|Mkhitaryan limps out of Manchester United Europa League clash|
|De Sciglio back in AC Milan training|
|Perez ´really comfortable´ after settling at Arsenal|
|Lallana signs three-year extension at Liverpool|
|Lyon have already discussed replacing Lacazette - Aulas|
|Low pleased to avoid fatigue after Euro 2016 campaign|
|Some teams are beaten before kick-off - Hazard hails Chelsea home form|
|AFC Champions League Review: Misery for history-making Yuen-ting, Ramires boosts Jiangsu|
|Spalletti not interested in Europa League favourites tag|
|Ventura: Balotelli´s latest signs not positive|
|Vela not expecting Real Sociedad Champions League return|
|Schone renews for two years at Ajax|
|Pochettino calls for patience in Tottenham trophy hunt|
|Demirbay earns two-year Hoffenheim extension|
|Origi eyeing first team place at Liverpool|
|Tottenham legend King encourages Alli to keep his edge|
|Pochettino: Spurs must wait for Rose return|
|Romero eyes Europa League title ahead of birthday trip to Saint-Etienne|
|Mowbray tasked with saving struggling Blackburn|
|Four more years? Celtic´s Dembele not stressing amid Real Madrid links|
|RB Leipzig or Salzburg Champions League ban ´hypothetical´ - UEFA|
|Manchester United have world-class players in every position - Forster|
|James: Zidane´s rotation does not affect Real Madrid|
|Redan to snub Manchester United and sign Ajax deal|
|Giovinco turned down China move ´for now´ - agent|
|Guardiola wanted to destroy Monaco´s 4-4-2, says Fabinho|
|Sagna hails Stones after ´vital´ Manchester City goal|
|Deulofeu loves AC Milan but future ´depends on Barcelona´|
|Monaco lacked intelligence, says frustrated Falcao|
|That is why Manchester City wanted me - Guardiola relishes Champions League thriller|
|Tianjin deny Rooney bid but admit Aubameyang talks|
|Deportivo Saprissa 0 Pachuca 0: Champions League quarter-final evenly poised|
|Gameiro angered by substitution in Atletico win|
|´I give nothing for free´ – Mourinho tells Shaw to learn from Mkhitaryan|
|Champions League quarter-finals still possible for Monaco, says Silva|
|Guardiola asks me for more, more, more - Aguero happy to fight on at Manchester City|
|It was like ice hockey - Monaco vice-president stunned by Champions League clash|
|Proud Griezmann eyes more Atletico history|
|Toure marvels at Caballero heroics in Manchester City-Monaco thriller|
|Buffon hopes to play well against Casillas|
|Schmidt: It is easy to see how Atletico Madrid have reached two finals in three years|
|Falcao penalty miss was key – Jardim|
|Guardiola: If one team can score a thousand, million goals it is Monaco|