By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/24 13:53:58
Italian coaching great Marcello Lippi was on Friday officially appointed as the head coach of the Chinese men's national football team for the second time, but fans gave mixed reactions for the legend's return.
Some fans hailed spirited, tactical performances under Lippi, highlighted by an inspirational win over arch rivals South Korea in 2017, the first time China beat the Taegeuk Warriors in a competitive match in 32 years.
"Though China won nothing under Lippi, the performance of the national team improved a lot," a Weibo user commented. "Though there are many other world-renowned coaches available, none of them have the better knowledge of Chinese football than Lippi."
Lippi led the national team to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup in January this year, but left the post disappointedly after a 3-0 defeat to Iran.
The Italian also faced criticism for not leading the team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup when he was on a reported annual salary of 20 million euros ($22 million). The Chinese Football Association did not reveal Lippi's salary nor the period of his new contract this time.
Lippi took over the national team in October 2016 from domestic coach Gao Hongbo, when China was struggling in the qualifying rounds with only one point after four games. Lippi then led the team to win three games and draw two games in six matches.
In a poll conducted by Sina Sports on Friday, more than half of the 22,000 voters believe that China will miss the 2022 FIFA World Cup even with Lippi's return.
Zhang Lu, a football pundit, told the Global Times earlier that Lippi's first tenure has showed that the major reason for the national team's underachieving is not the coach's capability but the players'.
China will play its first 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier in September, which means Lippi has four months to replace some of the current aging and veteran players in the squad.
The "Silver Fox" tried out young players during his last stint, but with disappointing results. The Italian may have more options for his new squad now, as China has started to naturalize foreign players. He is not new to this: Lippi's World Cup-winning Italy squad in 2006 included Mauro Camoranesi, born in Argentina.
The top eight Asian teams will automatically become seeded teams in the qualifiers, with China currently sitting in eighth place in the latest FIFA Asia rankings.
If Lippi does not want his team to face strong teams in the first round of the qualifying series, he has to ensure the team retains their position in the rankings.
That makes China's friendly games in June against Tajikistan and the Philippines crucial to maintaining China's ranking and so its World Cup qualifying prospects.
The two games are scheduled to be held in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, where Lippi had a glittering stint with Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande from 2012 to 2015.
Previously it was Fabio Cannavaro, now head coach of Evergrande, who got close to the job as an interim coach, but he quit following a China Cup fiasco in March.
As China remains the only candidate for the 2023 Asian Cup, some fans have hoped Lippi could last longer in his second tenure to lead the national team to achieve a better result than China's last hosting of the Asian Cup in 2004, where China finished as the runners-up.