China’s WC chances wor­ry­ing, says Lippi

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

BEIJING: China’s chances of qual­i­fy­ing for the 2018 World Cup fi­nals in Rus­sia are “not im­pos­si­ble but def­i­nitely wor­ry­ing”, new Ital­ian coach Mar­cello Lippi said yes­ter­day. The 68-year-old, who won the tour­na­ment with his own coun­try in 2006, was named the na­tional team’s new boss by the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (CFA) over the week­end. He faces the dif­fi­cult chal­lenge of steer­ing the hap­less Asian gi­ant to the tour­na­ment, a near im­pos­si­ble feat af­ter re­cent losses to Uzbek­istan and war-torn Syria.

“The qual­i­fy­ing table for the 2018 World Cup is wor­ry­ing, not im­pos­si­ble but def­i­nitely wor­ry­ing,” Lippi told his first press con­fer­ence in Beijing. “I want to build the team, help the play­ers im­prove, to have con­fi­dence in them­selves. If we win three or four games and miss out on qual­i­fi­ca­tion by just one point, that will still rep­re­sent progress.” Lippi boasts an im­pres­sive CV that in­cludes nine suc­cess­ful years at Ju­ven­tus, al­though his sec­ond turn in charge of Italy ended in an ig­no­min­ious first-round exit at South Africa 2010.

He went on to coach Chi­nese club Guangzhou Ever­grande to three con­sec­u­tive Chi­nese Su­per League ti­tles be­tween 2012 and 2014, and the AFC Cham­pi­ons League crown in 2013, their first win in the Asian tour­na­ment. Im­prov­ing Chi­nese foot­ball at the club and na­tional level has been a pri­or­ity for Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. Even be­fore tak­ing of­fice he un­der­lined his am­bi­tions for China to qual­ify for, host and one day win the World Cup. But it is a Her­culean task.

China is the most pop­u­lous na­tion on earth but holds a lowly 84th place in the FIFA world rank­ings, be­tween Gu­atemala and Kenya. They have only ever qual­i­fied for one fi­nal tour­na­ment, in 2002, when they lost all three of their group games and did not score a sin­gle goal. In the cur­rent cam­paign China have claimed just one point from four games in the lat­est World Cup Asian qual­i­fi­ca­tion phase and are bot­tom in Group A, which in­cludes Iran, Uzbek­istan, South Korea, Syria and Qatar.

Their pre­vi­ous coach Gao Hongbo an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion af­ter a 2-0 away de­feat to Uzbek­istan ear­lier this month. At yes­ter­day’s brief­ing, Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Cai Zhen­hua ac­knowl­edged that “the na­tional team’s level is pretty weak. We hope that un­der our new high-level coach we will be able to play well in the qual­i­fiers.”

‘Jaw-drop­ping’ salary

Ac­cord­ing to state broad­caster CCTV, Lippi will earn a salary of 4.5 mil­lion euros ($4.9 mil­lion). He and his team will also be paid 15.5 mil­lion euros an­nu­ally by Ever­grande’s foot­ball academy to act as its “ad­vis­ers”. He de­clined to con­firm the fig­ure, say­ing it was con­fi­den­tial. Lippi is the lat­est for­eigner to re­ceive a hefty salary for run­ning the na­tional side fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Spa­niard Jose An­to­nio Ca­ma­cho and France’s Alain Per­rin.

Some com­men­ta­tors have ex­pressed doubts about his ap­point­ment-and its cost. Writ­ing in the China Daily news­pa­per, which is pub­lished by the gov­ern­ment, Huang Xiangyang said he “can­not un­der­stand the logic” of the move and Lippi’s “jaw-drop­ping” salary. “His­tory shows mon­e­tary in­cen­tives are not a panacea for suc­cess for the na­tional men’s soc­cer team,” he wrote. “As far as I can re­call, the play­ers have rarely played like men, though their in­comes have reached as­tro­nom­i­cal fig­ures.”

Chi­nese en­trepreneurs have pumped vast sums of money into do­mes­tic clubs, even lur­ing in­ter­na­tional stars away from Euro­pean leagues. There has also been a splurge of Chi­nese in­vest­ment in some of Europe’s top clubs, among them In­ter Mi­lan, Manch­ester City, As­ton Villa, Es­panyol and Atletico Madrid. Of­fi­cials and clubs were ea­ger to “squan­der money on fa­mous play­ers and coaches”, but much more needed to be done to cul­ti­vate young ta­lent, with more play­ers, more soc­cer schools, and more chil­dren play­ing “just for fun”, Huang said.

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