Gao Hongbo handed China challenge

BEIJING - Gao Hongbo was named as China's new coach on Thursday and the youngest man to take the helm in 30 years will need to show experience beyond his age to arrest a slump in form that has led to the sacking of his predecessors.

The popular 43-year-old former national striker guided Changchun to the Chinese Super League title in 2007 and his appointment was met with a 60 percent approval rating in an online survey, the Beijing Morning Post said.

Previous national coaches have come in for savage abuse from fans and the media over China's repeated poor performances, most recently the team's failure to reach the final round of World Cup qualifiers.

Gao was sent to a closed camp for a three-day grilling by senior officials in February with three other candidates; temporary caretaker Yin Tiesheng, 2004 Olympics boss Shen Xiangfu and former Shanghai coach Wu Jingui.

An announcement was expected in mid-March but the Chinese Football Association was split between Gao and veteran Shen, media said.

Serbian Vladimir Petrovic was the last full-time coach but his contract was not renewed after China was eliminated from the qualifiers for next year's World Cup in South Africa.

A formal confirmation of Gao's appointment is likely to come next week, with his first task to lead the squad through the 2011 Asian Cup qualifiers.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticised China last year for a policy of hiring foreign coaches and then sacking them after just a few poor results.