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Lippi tells lightweight China ‘impossible may happen’

Shanghai (AFP) – Marcello Lippi says he is desperately short of options up front but China’s veteran Italian coach has told his players not to give up hope of reaching next year’s World Cup. 

China are bottom of their qualifying group with just one victory in eight games and must win both their remaining matches if they are to stand any chance of making it to Russia 2018, starting at home to Uzbekistan on Thursday.

The 69-year-old Lippi, who masterminded Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, says his much-derided side can upset the odds.

“We must keep on improving, constantly upping our game and sometimes the impossible may happen,” he told Titan Sports weekly ahead of the must-win game in Wuhan.

“It’s a fact that the Chinese team has improved. In the past the team was very despondent, never winning and the youth teams weren’t producing good players.

“We are improving in terms of mentality and organisation.”

Lippi has been at the helm for 10 months and will reportedly keep his job even if China fail to qualify for Russia — they were all but out of the reckoning for 2018 when he arrived.

His high-profile appointment is part of a Chinese government effort to markedly improve the fortunes of a country ranked a lowly 77th in the FIFA rankings and an embarrassment to the nation.

Clubs in the domestic Chinese Super League (CSL) have spent huge sums to bring in overseas players, particularly strikers such as Hulk at Shanghai SIPG,  which Lippi says has had a knock-on effect.

“We have a very severe problem, we don’t have strikers,” he said.

“On paper I don’t even have one striker, I have to make players from other positions play striker. 

“The reason is very simple: clubs like to buy foreign strikers. Our players in other positions are quite good, but our line of strikers is a real problem.”

China are going to need goals — and other results to go their way — if they are to propel themselves off the bottom of their qualifying group and into third place and a play-off spot.

Their final group match is at Qatar on September 5.

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