Lippi looks to sharpen Chinese football squad during China Cup

Beijing, Dec 30 (IANS) Italian Marcello Lippi is looking to start the new year with his first victory at the helm of the Chinese men’s football team. The 2006 World Cup-winning coach will lead China’s challenge against Iceland at the soon-to-be inaugurated China Cup in January 2017.

Lippi improved China’s performance a great deal during his first official match in November, helping to produce a dominating display. But he ultimately failed to bring the team a desperately needed win over Qatar in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup, reports Xinhua.

With less than three months to go before the do-or-die match against South Korea, the stakes could not be higher for China.

The China Cup, an A-grade international event acknowledged by the world football ruling body FIFA, is regarded as an important platform for the host team to hone their skills ahead of what remains a long-shot bid for Russia 2018.

The China Cup, to be held in Nanning, capital of southwestern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is set to bring some impressive teams into the mix, including world No.4 Chile and star-studded Croatia.

To kick off the first edition of this international football championship on January 10, China will take on Iceland, who currently rank 21st and pulled off a miracle in 2016 by making the last eight of the European Championship for the first time.

If Lippi manages to inspire China to push the elite European team to perform at their best level, or even pushes them hard enough to score a victory, it could bring about a much needed confidence boost for his team.

Confidence, it seems, is the name of the game for Lippi in his current work with Team China.

“It’s not only about improving in tactics and competitive level. Rebuilding confidence for the team is more important at the moment,” said Lippi in his first pre-match conference before the clash against Qatar.

Football officials appear to be behind Lippi’s vision, and see the China Cup as a huge opportunity for the national squad.

Organisers say that both the Wanda Group and the CFA have inked a 10-year agreement regarding the China Cup, which is set up as a yearly event, aiming to increase the number of invited top-30 teams to eight by 2019.

According to the player list, Lippi will use this chance to observe the team’s young talent; he did not call up any regulars from the national squad.

In the latest roster, there are no familiar names such as captain Zheng Zhi, central defender Feng Xiaoting and the target man Gao Lin, who are all from Guangzhou Evergrande.

Instead, Lippi will give a chance to several under-23 players like Wang Jinxian and Gao Zhunyi, seemingly trying to bring some fresh faces onto the field.

The Chinese men’s team has struggled for quite some time. Their sole appearance at the World Cup was in 2002, when they failed to score a single goal. The country’s failure to build a solid base for youth training is regarded as the main reason behind its struggles on the pitch.