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Lippi confident he can elevate China

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2016-10-29 07:17

 Lippi confident he can elevate China

Marcello Lippi faces a tough task to help the Chinese national soccer team qualify for 2018 World Cup. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

Italian soccer legend Marcello Lippi, the new head coach of China's men's national soccer team, expressed confidence on Friday about helping to improve the game's level in China, but experts called for more grassroots investment.

Lippi, who guided Italy to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup, has embraced a challenging mission to lead the Chinese national team through the Asian qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and to revive the country's soccer program.

After signing a contract through 2019 with the Chinese Football Association, reported to be worth 20 million euros ($21.8 million) annually, Lippi said on Friday that he was lured back to China by the respect he received and the possibility of helping one of the world's biggest economies to make progress on the soccer field.

Lippi guided Guangzhou Evergrande to one Asian and three domestic championship titles from 2012 to 2015.

Lippi said he has been missing China and hoped to come back since returning to Italy. "How they appreciated and respected my work and my team appeals to me," he said.

Evergrande's win of the 2013 AFC Champions League under Lippi has been a major international achievement of Chinese soccer since the country unveiled an ambitious plan to become a world soccer power.

However, the Italian is facing a tough task with China's national team, ranked 84 in the world, because it has gained only one point after four qualifiers.

"My priority is to help the team qualify for Russia. If we couldn't reach there, then we come back to work on the fundamentals on a longer period for the future of Chinese soccer," said Lippi, 68.

CFA Chairman Cai Zhenhua said the Italian's managerial expertise and knowledge of Chinese soccer will help make a difference.

"Hopefully, he could help the national team establish a technical style that fits into our conditions and advise us on how to reform the national program for fitness, logistics, player development and management," he said.

Citing Chinese players' individual skills, Lippi urged the squad to play more like a team to defeat Qatar in its next qualifying match on Nov 15 at home.

Tan Jianxiang, a sports sociology professor at South China Normal University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said that money and world-class foreign coaches won't necessarily bring substantial changes to the sport in China.

"The central government has made it clear that success should be built upon grassroots participation and solid development programs. If we don't have enough young players ... the best coaches in the world could do little to make a difference," he said.

The most urgent task is to improve the facilities and coaching staff at the grassroots level for more children to play the game, said Tan.

The country has pledged to open 50,000 schools specializing in soccer education by 2025, up from 14,000 at present.



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