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Major shakeup foreseen in China football after loss

November 15, 2019 GMT
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In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, Marcello Lippi, head coach of China, reacts during the press conference after the group A match between China and Syria of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. China’s football association has pledged to reshuffle the squad and “deeply reflect” following its loss to Syria in a World Cup qualifier that prompted the resignation of coach, Marcello Lippi. (Pan Yulong/Xinhua News Agency via AP)
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In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, Marcello Lippi, head coach of China, reacts during the press conference after the group A match between China and Syria of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. China’s football association has pledged to reshuffle the squad and “deeply reflect” following its loss to Syria in a World Cup qualifier that prompted the resignation of coach, Marcello Lippi. (Pan Yulong/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — China’s football association pledged Friday to reshuffle the squad and “deeply reflect” following its loss to Syria in a World Cup qualifier that prompted the resignation of coach Marcello Lippi.

A statement issued by the association described the team’s performance in the 2-1 defeat in Dubai as “just passable” and said Lippi’s resignation had been accepted.

The statement was widely derided online and even in state-controlled media as seeking to minimize the degree of failure. China is now five points behind Syria, only halfway through the group stage of Asian qualifying.

The statement posted early Friday on the association’s official microblog expressed “deep apology.”

“The Chinese Football Association will deeply reflect, reshuffle the men’s squad and fight hard in the upcoming group of forty competitions,” the statement said.

China’s men have qualified for only one World Cup and is currently ranked No. 69 in the world, alongside Canada and Saudi Arabia. In its only World Cup appearance in 2002, China lost all three games and failed to score a goal.

That has made them perennial underperformers compared to the women’s team and the country’s other medal winning athletes.

President and head of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping has made boosting the level of play a national priority and the CFA has sought new strategies, including adding foreign born, nationalized players to the squad.

In his farewell remarks, Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, said he took “full responsibility” for the loss.

“For any team, players should give their all once they are on the pitch and execute what the head coach had planned for,” said Lippi, who returned for a second spell in charge of China in May.

“If they are afraid and lacking motivation, will and courage and failed to execute what we had trained for, I will take responsibility for that as head coach.”

Only the winner of each of the eight groups and the four best second-place teams progress to the next stage of qualification.

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