TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has backed World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to transform China into a team capable of qualifying for the 2022 finals in Qatar.
Halilhodzic’s side handed an inexperienced China side a 2-1 defeat in the second round of matches in this year’s East Asian Championship on Tuesday to leave Lippi’s side with no hope of claiming the regional title for a third time.
However, with Lippi building for the future, the quality of the work being done by the former Juventus coach, who led his native Italy to glory at the 2006 World Cup, has not been lost on Halilhodzic.
“He’s preparing for 2022 and all the players trust Lippi a lot,” the former Algeria coach told reporters.
“He’s the best coach in the world. He has won everything, every title he wanted. He has chosen a team that is growing up and is very promising for the future.
“Results don’t come in a few months, so to make a competitive group you need to have some years until you achieve that.”
China’s national team has only qualified for the World Cup once, when Bora Milutinovic took the country to the finals in South Korea and Japan in 2002.
Since then, the representative side has struggled, missing out on the final round of Asia’s qualifying tournament for the next three World Cups before scraping into the last phase for 2018.
A poor start to that campaign under former coach Gao Hongbo led to the hiring of Lippi, the Italian taking over with China’s hopes all but gone despite renewed interest and investment in the sport thanks to President Xi Jinping’s support.
Six points from six games under the 69-year-old, however, saw China narrowly lose out to Syria for a place in a regional playoff against Australia.
But with huge sums of money flowing into the game to lure the likes of Lippi to the country, hopes are high the nation can finally end that disappointing run.
“I don’t know what’s going in the Chinese league because I didn’t study the details, but they have players with quality who will improve under the coaching of Lippi,” said Halilhodzic, who will lead Japan at the World Cup in Russia next year.
“They need to have ambition to go to the Qatar World Cup. You could see this ambition in China tonight. If China trust Lippi more they will get better.”
Japan have been drawn in Group H in Russia, alongside Poland, Senegal and Colombia.
Reporting by Michael Church in Tokyo; Editing by John O’Brien
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