Marcello Lippi returns for second stint as China head coach

<p>
              FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2016, file photo, then China's head coach Marcello Lippi gestures during the Group A World Cup 2018 Asian qualifier soccer match against Qatar, in Kunming in southwestern China's Yunnan province. Lippi is set to return for a second stint in charge of China's national team as the country targets a place at the 2022 World Cup, the Chinese Football Association announced Friday, May 24, 2019. (Color China Photo via AP, File)
            </p>

Marcello Lippi is set to return for a second stint in charge of China’s national team as the country targets a place at the 2022 World Cup with qualification starting in September.

The Chinese Football Association announced Friday that the 71-year-old Lippi, who guided Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, will start back next month. He ended his initial 27-month tenure after China’s exit in the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup in January.

“When Lippi was previously in charge of the national team, the players showed a positive attitude and a fighting spirit,” the CFA said in a statement. “We believe that with Lippi and his team of assistant coaches, the Chinese men’s football team will leave no stone unturned in realizing their dream of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.”

China’s only appearance at the World Cup was in 2002, when it was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

Lippi, who led Juventus to the UEFA Champions League title in 1996 and China’s Guangzhou Evergrande to the Asian version of the continental club title in 2013, first took the China job in October 2016 during the last round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. He didn’t meet that objective, though he did produce an upturn in results.

The initial boost did not last, however, and while China made the last eight of the Asian Cup — matching the performance from 2015 — Lippi selected the oldest roster in the tournament with an average age of 29.2. The Chinese team generally failed to show many signs of improvement, losing to South Korea and Iran.

Despite that exit, Lippi not only has a record of success in Chinese club soccer with three domestic championships as coach of Guangzhou, he is also familiar with the players and challenges involved in taking the national team, ranked 74th in the world, forward.

“I gave some young players opportunities to show their quality and abilities,” Lippi said in January when looking back on his initial tenure. “We saw they have a lot of work to do, they don’t have big experience in these kind of international big matches.”

Lippi said there is young talent in the country and it will be his job to replace team veterans such as Zheng Zhi and Gao Lin. He’ll be working with Guus Hiddink as the former Netherlands, South Korea and Real Madrid boss has been tasked with leading China’s under-23 team to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I am confident that the future of Chinese football will be better and better. There is movement from the young teams,” Lippi said. “I am confident that we will have good young players coming through.”

Lippi succeeds fellow Italian Fabio Cannavaro, who had a brief stint in charge of China’s national team while also remaining head coach of Guangzhou in the Chinese Super League.

Cannavaro, the 2006 World Cup-winning captain, quit as national coach after two losses in March to focus on his club duties with Guangzhou.