Shanghai: Disillusioned Chinese fans blamed the country's football authorities for the national side's latest heavy defeats amid reports that the players have been banned from displaying tattoos.
Several players in the 6-0 thrashing by Wales last week and in Monday's 4-1 defeat to the Czech Republic wore bandages or long sleeves on their arms, seemingly to hide tattoos.
Media reports said the players had been told to cover up while playing for China, who are coached by the Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi. China's most heavily inked player, central defender Zhang Linpeng, did not feature in either of the two heavy home defeats in the China Cup despite normally being a first choice.He was officially left out because of injury, but some fans suggested he had been dropped because of numerous tattoos on his arms and on his neck.
Chinese footballers are not generally as heavily tattooed as their international counterparts, but the growing trend has caught the government's attention as it cracks down on what it sees as behaviour contrary to the ruling Communist Party's "values and morals".
In Monday's defeat by the Czech Republic, midfielder Cai Huikang wore long sleeves that covered up his tattoos and fellow substitute Wei Shihao had a bandage that masked the ink on one bicep.
There has been no official ban from the Chinese Football Association (CFA), but reports in local media say a ruling is imminent and it could be part of a larger move against Chinese sportsmen with tattoos.
Lin Dan, regarded as the best badminton player of all time, is among the Chinese stars who would have to cover up.
China have improved since the 69-year-old Lippi took over in October 2016, but he was unable to get them to this summer's World Cup and they have now suffered two heavy losses in five days in front of their own fans.Lippi apologised after the latest mauling. "The game truly reflected the gap between Chinese football and European football," the Italian, who guided his country to World Cup glory in 2006, said.
"Not only compared with European first-class teams like France, Spain and Germany, but also European teams like Wales and the Czech Republic, the gap is all-round,"
Chinese fans though pointed the finger at the CFA and said the governing body should be more concerned with the state of the national team than the players' tattoos.
"CFA finally found the problem of Chinese football! The next step should be controls on perms, smoking and haircuts," one mocked on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.
Another wrote: "They play like crap and don't reflect why, but try to control tattoos..."