HONG KONG (Reuters) - Marcello Lippi will remain as China coach until at least the 2019 Asian Cup finals, the Chinese Football Association said on Thursday.
The Italian, who replaced Gao Hongbo last October, has kept China’s slim hopes of qualifying for the next year’s World Cup finals alive since taking over.
China take on Uzbekistan and Qatar in their final two qualifiers over the coming weeks, with Lippi’s team needing to win both and hope other results go their way to have any hope of progressing into the playoffs for a place in Russia.
“We will strictly carry out our contract with Lippi, which expires after the 2019 Asian Cup,” the CFA said in an article posted on their website on Thursday.
“We won’t interfere with his preparation and the line-up. In the meantime, we will support his group as always. We hope to support and trust each other.”
By progressing to the final round of Asia’s World Cup qualifiers, the Chinese have already secured their place at the quadrennial Asian Cup, which has been expanded to feature 24 teams for the first time in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
China’s best performance in the Asian Cup came on home soil in 2004, when they lost to Japan in the final. They reached the quarter-finals in the most recent edition, in Australia in 2015.
The team have shown some progress under Lippi, securing only their second win over South Korea in March, but their hopes of qualifying for a second World Cup finals were always remote after a poor start under Gao.
“Since October 22 last year, Lippi and his coaching staff have helped China to get one win, two draws and one defeat in the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup,” said the CFA.
“The team has changed a lot tactically and mentally. We hereby take this opportunity to thank them all.”
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford