Marcello Lippi said an influx of foreign forwards had decimated China's striking stocks and could damage their Asian Cup campaign after an unconvincing start in the United Arab Emirates.
China's threadbare options up front were underlined when makeshift forward Yu Dabao grabbed the winner in Monday's 2-1 win over debutants Kyrgyzstan, which also left key attacker Wu Lei nursing a suspected collarbone injury.
Yu played as a defender last season for Beijing Guoan and Lippi said the overseas forwards flooding the cashed-up Chinese Super League have squeezed out Chinese players.
"This shows our situation in China. In China, nearly all the foreign players are forwards," said Lippi, who led his native Italy to the 2006 World Cup title.
"It means for our attack, I have to pick a player who spent the season in central defense."
China's attacking play was far from convincing against Kyrgyzstan, who led at half-time and should have grabbed at least a draw if not for a bungling own goal by their goalkeeper.
But Lippi's team had problems in defense too as they were continually picked apart by an inventive Kyrgyzstan, who dominated the first half and had chances for a late equalizer.
The news did not improve for China as the influential Wu, reportedly linked with Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers last year, was left in doubt for Friday's second Group C clash against the Philippines.
"I really hope not," said Lippi, when asked if the injury was serious. "I hope he'll be available (against the Philippines) but it's not certain."
Alexandre Pato, Hulk and Oscar are among the well-paid foreign attacking players in China, where football authorities have tried to clamp down on expensive new arrivals by imposing a heavy tax on transfer fees and a salary cap.
However, Lippi was also a beneficiary of the trend during his time at Guangzhou Evergrande, when the likes of Dario Conca, Elkeson and Muriqui inspired the club to four CSL titles and the 2013 Asian Champions League crown.
Goal-shy China scored just five goals in their six friendlies since September and Lippi revealed he gave his players a half-time rocket after a typically slow start against Kyrgyzstan.
"It's not the first time. In the two-and-a-half years I've been the national team coach, it's happened many times that we've played a negative first half," he said.
"I start to get angry and push my players, and then I get the reaction that I wanted from the first minute. It seems like it's a characteristic of Chinese players."
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