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.
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