BEIJING: Former World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi has been named to lead China’s national side following the resignation of Gao Hongbo, the Chinese Football Association announced Saturday.
The appointment comes after World Cup qualifying losses by the men’s team to Syria and Uzbekistan left the Asian giant with virtually no chance of qualifying for Russia 2018.
Lippi travelled to Beijing to accept an official offer for the post, according to a statement on the CFA’s web site.
The decision was made “according to the CFA’s coach selection and hiring process and through friendly consultations on both sides”, it said.
No details were announced. The organisation said it will hold an official press conference on Friday.
The announcement follows rumours earlier in the week that the Italian maestro would take over the struggling squad.
Former China coach Gao resigned on October 11 following a 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Uzbekistan, leaving the team with almost no window to qualify for the event.
Sitting a lowly 78th in FIFA’s rankings, China have claimed just one point from four games and dropped to bottom place in a Group A which includes Iran, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Syria and Qatar.
Lippi, who steered Italy to their fourth and most recent World Cup triumph in 2006, is not new to working in China.
The 68-year-old coached Chinese top flight side Guangzhou Evergrande to three consecutive Super League titles between 2012 and 2014.
Often a source of national embarrassment, improving the level of football at club and national level has been one of the priorities of China’s President Xi Jinping.
Even before taking office, Xi underlined his ambitions for Chinese football in 2011: to qualify for the World Cup, to host the event and to one day win it.
China have qualified only once for the World Cup, quietly departing the 2002 edition without scoring a goal.
Last year officials declared football a compulsory part of the national curriculum, with pledges to open 20,000 football-themed schools by 2017 with the aim of producing more than 100,000 players.
There has also been a splurge of Chinese investment in some of Europe’s top clubs — Inter Milan, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Espanyol and Atletico Madrid to name but a few — and some of the sport’s top stars have been lured to China.