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June 17, 2021

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Coach Li thanks Lippi as China hopes alive

China coach Li Tie paid tribute to predecessor Marcello Lippi after rescuing the country’s hopes of reaching the FIFA World Cup for only the second time.

China on Tuesday won its fourth match in a row under former Everton midfielder Li to enter the decisive third phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022.

The 44-year-old Li took over from Lippi after the Italian World Cup-winner abruptly quit following a 1-2 defeat to Syria in November 2019 which left China’s World Cup hopes in the balance.

But China has been revived under Li and took a step towards Qatar with a 3-1 win over group leader Syria in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates.

Li praised his players’ “tenacious fighting spirit” and “mental willpower”, according to Chinese media, before adding: “I also want to pay tribute to Lippi and thank him for helping the team and me for so many years.”

Li, who was named China coach in January last year, was an assistant to the 73-year-old Italian with the national side in 2016-2017.

The team was top trending on Weibo yesterday after a penalty by Wu Lei and goals from Zhang Xizhe and Zhang Yuning against Syria saw China into the next round of qualifying as one of the best second-placed teams from Asia’s eight second-phase groups.

Forward Wu has come under pressure to return permanently to China from Espanyol, where he was a peripheral figure as the club clinched promotion back to Spain’s top flight.

But Li, who played in the English Premier League for Everton, said: “Wu Lei’s progress in Spain is obvious, but there are still so many fans and (people on) the Internet attacking him.”

China has played at the World Cup only once, in 2002, when it lost all three matches and failed to score a goal.

The third round of qualifying starts in September.

Australia and Japan had already secured their places but were the only two teams to do so by winning all eight games in the second round.

Iran beat Iraq 1-0 on Sardar Azmoun’s first-half goal to seal top spot in Group C, though both teams advanced.

The UAE topped Group G by defeating Vietnam 3-2. Both teams progressed.

Saudi Arabia finished first in Group D with the 3-0 win over Uzbekistan, which was eliminated, in Riyadh.

Oman and Lebanon confirmed their spots in the next round to join South Korea, which qualified on Sunday.

Australia beat Jordan 1-0 in a gritty game in Kuwait City, with Stoke City defender Harry Souttar heading home after 77 minutes to score his sixth goal in just his fifth international appearance.

Australia played seven of its eight matches away from home in the second round because of restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic, scoring 28 goals and conceding just two.

In Osaka, a hat trick in six minutes by Ado Onaiwu highlighted Japan’s 5-1 victory over Kyrgyzstan.


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