Fabio Cannavaro is under growing pressure at Guangzhou Evergrande after the Chinese heavyweights exited the AFC Champions League and have now failed to win for five games in a nightmare fortnight.
The Italian World Cup winner admitted that his former side Tianjin Quanjian showed greater desire as Alexandre Pato scored in a 2-2 draw in Guangzhou on Tuesday to squeeze into the Champions League quarter-finals on away goals.
The 44-year-old Cannavaro, who left Tianjin to take over at the Chinese champions from the Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari in the close season, has seen his side go out of the Chinese FA Cup and now the continent's top club competition in the space of two weeks.
With a third of the Chinese season gone, Guangzhou have only their Chinese Super League (CSL) title to defend.
They have won the domestic championship seven times in a row but face a real battle to make it eight and are sitting fifth in the table, albeit only two points off faltering leaders Shanghai SIPG.
"Football is a very strange thing," said Cannavaro, who last season took Tianjin into the Champions League for the first time in their short history and then saw his former side stun the two-time Asian champions.
"Perhaps you can score after one or two opportunities, but sometimes you probably can't after 30 shots and we often had this kind of situation this season," the Oriental Sports Daily quoted him as saying.
"For this game, we created lots of opportunities but couldn't score enough goals."
Brazilian striker Ricardo Goulart hit a double in the last-16 clash on Tuesday, but twice the home side were swiftly pegged back by a Tianjin team who are in the bottom half of the CSL.
- Fan frustration -
Ambitious Tianjin, who along with the Brazilian Pato have French striker Anthony Modeste in attack and Belgian international Axel Witsel in midfield, are in just their second season in China's top tier.
"Tianjin Quanjian's sense of hunger in these two games was a lot stronger than ours," said Cannavaro, whose side had been slight favourites to win the tie after forcing a goalless draw in the first leg away from home.
"Many of their players were playing in the second division 18 months ago."
Guangzhou fans, so used to seeing their side dominate, are growing restless and media turned the screw on the Italian, who skippered his country to World Cup glory in 2006.
Oriental Sports Daily said that Cannavaro had little margin for further error and Guangzhou Daily said the team had clearly deteriorated in some respects under Cannavaro.
But it also pointed out that he was managing an ageing squad that contains few outstanding players and also questioned the players' hunger.
While the likes of Tianjin and CSL leaders Shanghai SIPG have spent heavily on foreign players in the last two seasons, Guangzhou Evergrande have been comparatively restrained.
They lost Brazil international Paulinho to Barcelona last summer and replaced him with little-known Serbian Nemanja Gudelj from CSL side Tianjin Teda.
Guangzhou have pledged to build an all-Chinese team by 2020, in line with a Chinese government drive to improve the national team and rein in spending on overseas players.
Under pressure: Fabio Cannavaro during his Guangzhou Evergrande side's exit at the hands of his former club Tianjin Quanjian on Tuesday