China parted ways with Guus Hiddink, just 12 months after the Dutchman was appointed head coach of their under-21 squad with the goal of preparing the team for a run at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
In an announcement on Thursday, Chinese officials said a "Chinese under-22 national men's football preparation leading group" would be set up with immediate effect to take charge of their build-up for next year's Olympic qualification campaign.
The former Dutch national team manager was missing from the four-member group led by Gao Hongbo, vice-chairman of the Chinese Football Association with Hao Wei, former China women's team head coach, as executive coach.
The announcement failed to shed light on Hiddink's future, but said they were unhappy with the previous coaching team's preparation work and that they needed to strengthen the programme as soon as possible. It was also reported that Hiddink's assistant, former China international Sun Jihai, had resigned.
In March, Hiddink led China to first place in their 2020 AFC Under-23 Championship qualification campaign, which serves as the 2020 Olympic qualifiers. They topped group J with two wins over Philippines and Laos and a draw against Malaysia.
However, the Dutchman came under heavy fire when China only managed eighth place at the Toulon Youth Cup in France in June. Earlier in September, China took part in a three-team invitation tournament in Hubei but had a disappointing 1-1 draw against North Korea and suffered a 2-0 defeat against Vietnam.
Chinese football is all over! Even the best coach in the world cannot save the teamSina commenter
It was after the Vietnam defeat that speculation began over the future of Hiddink, who has managed some of the world's top clubs and national teams such as Real Madrid, Chelsea, South Korea, Russia and his home country Netherlands.
Reports in the mainland said the Chinese authorities were keen to improve results under new management after businessman Chen Xuyuan was elected CFA president last month.
It would be a massive blow if China failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games. China last appeared at the Summer Games in 2008 when they were the hosts.
However, fans have already shown little faith in the team after a series of disappointing performances, saying they do not expect their fortunes to improve no matter who takes over from Hiddink.
One fan on Sina Sport's online portal wrote: "Chinese football is all over! Even the best coach in the world cannot save the team. We would rather watch women's volleyball or table tennis if we want glory."
Only three teams can represent Asia at the 2020 Olympics, along with hosts Japan.
There will be 16 teams competing at the 2020 AFC Under-23 Championship in Thailand early next year. All the regional heavyweights have qualified to play in the tournament such as South Korea, Iran, Australia, Qatar and defending champions Uzbekistan.
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