By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Marcello Lippi has resigned as head coach of the China national team after seeing his side slip to a 2-1 loss to Syria in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Dubai on Thursday.
The Italian quit during his news conference after an own goal from defender Zhang Linpeng left China five points adrift of the table-topping Syrians at the halfway point of the qualification group stage.
“My pay is very high, and I take all the blame,” Lippi was quoted as saying by the Chinese media.
“I am quitting as China coach.”
Only the winners from each of the eight qualification groups for the finals in Qatar will advance to the next round, with the four runners-up with the best records also progressing.
China, who are attempting to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002, are currently in second place in Group A with seven points alongside the Philippines, with Syria holding a maximum 12 points from their first four games.
This is the second time this year that Lippi, who led Italy to a World Cup triumph in 2006, has left the role as China’s head coach.
The 71-year-old, who also won five Serie A titles and a Champions League across two spells in charge of Juventus, reversed his decision to stand down from the role in January having refused to sign a new contract following the team’s quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup.
His return came in March after compatriot Fabio Cannavaro helmed the country during the China Cup friendly tournament on an interim basis and was followed by a series of attempts to bolster the national squad.
England-born midfielder Nico Yennaris became the first overseas-born player to be selected by China. Soon after Elkeson, a Brazilian striker who has set scoring records in the Chinese Super League, was the first player without Chinese ancestry to gain citizenship and play for China.
Those additions, though, have not been enough to improve the squad and Lippi has been under pressure since his team was held to a 0-0 draw last month by the Philippines.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)