Thanks, boss

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 17 Jun 2021

Coach Li Tie paid tribute to predecessor Marcello Lippi after rescuing China's hopes of reaching the football World Cup.

China won their fourth match in a row under former Everton midfielder Li to reach the final round of Asian qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Li, 44, took over from Lippi after the Italian World Cup-winning coach abruptly quit following a 2-1 defeat to Syria in November 2019 which left China's hopes in the balance.

But China have been revived under Li and took a step towards Qatar with a 3-1 win over group leaders Syria in the UAE.

Li praised his players' "tenacious fighting spirit" and "mental willpower" before adding: "I also want to pay tribute to Lippi and thank him for helping the team and me for so many years."

Li, who was named China coach in January last year, was an assistant to the 73-year-old Italian with the national side in 2016-2017.

A penalty by Wu Lei and goals from Zhang Xizhe and Zhang Yuning against Syria saw China into the next round of qualifying as one of the best second-placed teams from Asia's eight second-round groups.

China finished second in Group A, just two points behind Syria.

Forward Wu has come under pressure to return permanently to China from Espanyol, where he was a peripheral figure last season as they clinched promotion back to Spain's top flight.

But Li said: "Wu Lei's progress in Spain is obvious, but there are still so many fans on the Internet attacking him."

China have played at the World Cup only once, in 2002, when they lost all three matches and failed to score a goal.

On a frantic day of action across Asia, with 14 matches played, Iraq, Oman, Vietnam and Lebanon also made it through after finishing among the five best second-placed teams.

Iran and the UAE also advanced, joining Syria, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Australia, who clinched their places in the final round of qualifying by topping their respective groups.

The remaining teams will now be divided into two groups of six teams. The first two teams in each group will qualify for the World Cup.

Hong Kong ended its campaign with a 4-0 loss to Bahrain, leaving them in fourth place in Group C.

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