Lippi be­gins ten­ure as China coach, tar­get still World Cup

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Mar­cello Lippi starts mis­sion al­most-im­pos­si­ble to­day as he bids to take China to the 2018 World Cup.

Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup ti­tle, was ap­pointed in Oc­to­ber to try and re­sus­ci­tate China’s floun­der­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign. He kicks off against Qatar in the south­west­ern city Kun­ming.

China, which has qual­i­fied only once for a World Cup, has just one point from the first four games in Group A of third-round Asian qual­i­fy­ing, mak­ing vic­tory against Qatar vi­tal.

“We will fo­cus on first deal­ing with the Qataris and then Korea Republic,” Lippi was quoted as say­ing on the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion’s web­site. “Our chief aim is World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion. I hope we can achieve a mir­a­cle.”

Lippi has ex­pe­ri­ence in China. From 2012 to 2014, he led Guangzhou Ever­grande to three Chi­nese Su­per League ti­tles as well as the Asian Cham­pi­ons League crown in 2013. In a warmup game against a lower-league Chi­nese team last week, Lippi se­lected five play­ers from his former club, in­di­cat­ing a strong reliance on the team which picked up a sixth suc­ces­sive do­mes­tic cham­pi­onship in Oc­to­ber.

“These are the play­ers who have spent years train­ing and play­ing to­gether so they have tele­graphic un­der­stand­ing with each other,” the former Ju­ven­tus coach said. “This is the key for us to play well against Qatar.”

The 68 year-old Lippi’s con­tract is not just about the World Cup, but help­ing the sport thrive in China in the longer term.

“Even if we fail to make it, we should make sure that the team makes good progress in the process and build for the fu­ture,” he said. “Then we will switch our fo­cus to the next Asian Cup.”

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, has also started poorly with three points from the first four games. A 2-1 win over 2018 host Rus­sia in a friendly last week will boost con­fi­dence for the Qataris.

With only the top two from both six-team groups au­to­mat­i­cally pro­gress­ing to Rus­sia 2018, Ja­pan is third in Group B, height­en­ing the im­por­tance of a win against group leader Saudi Ara­bia.

Ja­pan has ap­peared at the past five World Cups but some un­con­vinc­ing per­for­mances un­der coach Vahid Halil­hodzic have jeop­ar­dized a con­tin­u­a­tion of that streak.

“You can look at the Saudi game in two ways,” Ja­pan de­fender To­moaki Makino said after a warmup 4-0 win against Oman on Fri­day. “You can look at it as us hav­ing our back against the wall, or see it as an op­por­tu­nity to turn things around.”

If Saudi Ara­bia does slip up in Ja­pan, Aus­tralia could go top of Group B with a win over Thai­land in Bangkok. Thai­land, which has lost all four games so far, had planned to hold the game in a neu­tral venue due to national mourn­ing fol­low­ing the death last month of long-serv­ing monarch King Bhu­mi­bol.

Aus­tralia coach Ange Postecoglou omit­ted tal­is­man Tim Cahill from the squad but re­mains hope­ful of ex­tend­ing the streak of five wins against Thai­land.

“If we can get three points in this game, with the pro­gram we have next year with three home games and the Iraq game in neu­tral ter­ri­tory, we’ll be in pretty good shape,” Postecoglou said.

Iran, yet to con­cede a goal and top of Group A with 10 points, takes on Syria in Malaysia due to the on­go­ing war in Syria, while South Korea hosts sec­ond-placed Uzbek­istan.

South Korea coach Uli Stielike is also un­der pres­sure with the team - aim­ing for a ninth suc­ces­sive World Cup ap­pear­ance - in third spot, three points be­hind Iran.

China’s newly ap­pointed national foot­ball team coach Mar­cello Lippi speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Photo: AP

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