At the Olympics, China lost to Brazil and Belgium and tied New Zealand.
China spent $40 billion on hosting the 2008 Olympic Games and its athletes won a record 51 gold medals. But soccer is hugely popular and the men's team's disappointment launched an avalanche of criticism from the media.
Two Chinese journalists said the media has been told to tone it down.
The IHT quoted one sports reporter as saying, "You can't stop criticism of the men's soccer team. Everyone hates the team."
"In fact, Brazilian ping-pong is not weak," said its Olympic team coach, Wei Jianren, a former China international player. "Brazilian Ping-Pong is not among the top ones in the world, but it's in the leading position in the Latin America region."