Lippi down to business as China host Qatar
MARCELLO Lippi said China need to shed their “underdog” mentality as he faces a tough first game in charge – a World Cup qualifier against Qatar that neither team can afford to lose.
While Lippi, who coached Italy to win the 2006 World Cup, admits rock-bottom China need a “miracle” to reach Russia 2018, he said top priority was restoring their swagger.
“It is important to restore the team’s confidence,” said Lippi, according to the FIFA website, ahead of today’s clash in Kunming.
“We will focus on first dealing with the Qataris and then South Korea. Our chief aim is World Cup qualification. I hope we can achieve a miracle.
“But 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. Then we will switch our focus to the next Asian Cup.”
Lippi last month took charge of China, which desperately needs a lift after defeats to South Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan left them bottom in Group A with one point from four games.
The world’s most populous nation dreams of becoming a football superpower, but China have only reached one World Cup, in 2002, which they exited pointless and goalless.
There are parallels to be drawn with ambitious Qatar, who will host the Middle East’s first World Cup in 2022 but who are also floundering and lie second from bottom.
In both groups A and B, only the top two of six teams are assured of a trip to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the third-placed sides going into a play-off series.
But Lippi said China shouldn’t feel inferior to their opponents as they have performed well in patches, notably their recovery from 3-0 down to 3-2 against South Korea.
“Our players were not in peak form but they proved that they are by no means the underdogs,” he said.
China and Qatar are not the only teams desperate for a win, as Japan need to turn around their fortunes in Group B while hosting Saudi Arabia
The four-time Asian champions, stunned at home by UAE in September, currently lie third. But victory will put them level on points with the topplaced Saudis.
Australia, second in the group, will be favourites against Thailand in Bangkok, where a ban on cheering during mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been relaxed.
In Group A, South Korea can leapfrog Uzbekistan into second place if they beat the Uzbeks in Seoul, while war-torn Syria host table-toppers Iran in Paroi, Malaysia. –