China coach Zhu Guanghu was reluctant to discuss his future plans after his side bowed out of the AFC Asian Cup following a 3-0 defeat to Uzbekistan in their final Group C match on Wednesday.
China only needed a draw to progress to the quarter-finals, but goals by Maksim Shatskikh, Timur Kapadze and Alexander Geynrikh in the last 18 minutes at Shah Alam Stadium sent the central Asian side through to the last eight instead.
It was the first time that China had fail to reach the knockout stage of the Asian Cup since 1980, leading to further speculation that the embattled Zhu would be forced to step aside after the tournament.
However, the 57-year-old refused to be drawn on questions about his future when he arrived several minutes late for the press conference due to concern over striker Han Peng who had to be rushed to hospital with a head injury suffered in the dying minutes of the game.
"I will not be leaving football," said Zhu, when asked about his next step after the Asian Cup.
"Our performance at the Asian Cup will be evaluated when we get back home and we will try to see what we can learn from our participation here."
Runners-up in 2004, China had entered this year’s tournament stating that their target was to reach the semi-finals, but Zhu was forced to apologise for their performance.
"I’m very, very sorry that we failed to reach the knockout stage but today we had some critical problems with several key players missing or suspended," he said.
"However, we tried our best and we had chances to score in the second half but we just couldn’t manage a goal.
"Of course, I am the one responsible for the result and I am very sorry for the fans but I hope that in the future, the players can learn from this."
Midfielder Shao Jiayi attributed the defeat to the team’s weakness at set-pieces.
"It is a shame that the three goals that we conceded in the game all came from free-kicks," said the Energie Cottbus player.
"It is an area that we really need to improve on because five of the six goals that we conceded at the Asian Cup resulted from set-piece situations."
A member of the 2004 team that lost the Asian Cup final 3-1 to China, Shao was naturally disappointed to see his side bow out so early this time around.
"Of course, I am very disappointed but this is football, he added. "We have not succeeded in our aim of qualifying for the semi-final but hopefully we will learn from this and know what we need to do to reach our next target which is to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010."
China were missing a number of key players including injured goalkeeper Li Leilei and suspended duo Zheng Zhi and Li Weifeng, however, Shao did not want to see that as the main reason for their defeat by the Uzbeks.
"It was a problem not to have those key players but football is about teamwork and not about Individual players," he said.
"We did not lose this game because of one or two players; we lost it as a team."