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Struggling Chinese national team looks to rebound as Asian Cup nears

In the latest edition of the China Cup, the Chinese national football team, referred to as China PR by FIFA, lost two games that it participated in. The games were against the Wales national football team and the Czech Republic national football team, two teams that did not qualify for the World Cup in Russia this summer.

During the 180 minutes that the team played, it conceded 10 goals and scored merely one.

If anything, the performance during the tournament, especially with the Asian Cup less than a year away, is a cause for concern and does not bode well for a decent performance at the summit in the United Arab Emirates next year.

Compared with previous editions of the China Cup, the visiting teams brought their top-flight squads to the Far East this time, planning to use the tournament as a World Cup warmup.

China was going to face some tested and seasoned senior internationals. The matches were good measure for how far the national team, under World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi, had progressed.

In Nanning — a city in southern China near the Vietnam border — China conceded four goals to Wales before halftime and eventually two more to finish the night. For three of the four goals scored by Wales before the interval, He Guan, the central defender from Shanghai SIPG F.C., was the main culprit as he made crucial defensive mistakes that were hard for the team to recover from.

He would watch the ball slip past him for the first goal, react slowly to the dashing Sam Vokes for the second and misjudge Harry Wilson’s drive at goal for the third. All of these misses were rookie mistakes that should not happen for a player competing at the best club currently in China.

“I hope all the players come to the national team with tremendous pride and honor,” Lippi said after the clash against Wales. “If not, then they won’t be called up the national team.”

He was likely one of the players who did not live up to his expectations. Judging from the past, there is chance that He will not be called up for international duty after his performance, just like Zhao Mingjian, who made two subpar mistakes and was never seen on the national team sheet again.

The team was much more positive in the second game against the Czech Republic. One goal was scored and China held the lead until the 58th minute.

Although China conceded three goals in quick succession, the cause in this match was likely due to a lack of stamina, a common characteristic of the Chinese national team, rather than a loss of concentration and confusion.

Lippi said he saw improvements in the team but could not kick-start a revolution by himself. However, he also believed that as long as consistent, systematic coaching could be instituted in the young teams, the senior teams could be competitive with the top teams in Asia.

Arbitrary criticism notwithstanding, Lippi’s tactical improvements imposed on the team could be seen from the last round of World Cup qualification.

In order to avert further pressure from the public, though, Lippi needs to be more pragmatic and flexible to grind out an acceptable result in the Asian Cup next year, especially if he wants to keep
his job.

April 16, 2018

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