World Cup winner Marcello Lippi confirmed that his two-year tenure as coach of China was over on Thursday following his team’s exit from the Asian Cup quarterfinals at the hands of Iran.
The Italian had already said that he would not sign another contract but some in China had hoped he might reconsider if his team managed to land a maiden continental title in the United Arab Emirates.
It was not to be and China were blown off the park by an energetic, physical Iran side at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, gifting them three goals with defensive errors and mustering just five shots on target.
“This match ends my contract with the Chinese national team, the end of my journey with China,” the 70-year-old told a news conference.
“I want to thank all of you. It was an honour managing the national team of such an important country and I tried my best to improve this team.
“I was really hoping to end this experience in a better way but you cannot make these kind of mistakes.”
Citing a cold, Lippi refused to take questions but the great competitor could not resist lambasting the Chinese players for their lapses.
“We had a good Asian Cup and played some good games but I find it unacceptable to commit these types of errors,” he said.
“I thank my players for their efforts but not for what they did tonight.
“I’m a bit angry, this was just a lack of concentration. I knew they were stronger than us, I was expecting a tough match but you cannot give such gifts to a team like Iran.”
Widely acknowledged as one of the finest tacticians in the game with an honour roll that includes the 2006 World Cup with Italy and Champions League titles in two continents, Lippi will not lack for job offers if he wants to stay in the game.
Where the Chinese Football Association goes next will be a matter for some contemplation.
Since President Xi Jinping expressed his hope that China would one day host, and then win, the World Cup, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into the Chinese game — $28 million a year to Lippi alone by some accounts.
The result on the face of it is not a huge amount of progress, still no qualification for the World Cup and a quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup for the second tournament in row.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, however, said he had seen some improvement during Lippi’s reign.
“There was a great evolution in the team, they became much better organised, much better prepared,” he said.
“It’s a pity that Mr. Lippi cannot stay with China but that, of course, that is his decision. Football cannot afford to lose the likes of Mr. Lippi, [Fabio] Capello, Alex Ferguson — these coaches have made the game what it is today.”