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China youngsters to get EAFF chance

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Marcello Lippi: China have improved under me, made 'significant progress'

Marcello Lippi took charge of China last October.

Marcello Lippi says China's national team have made "significant progress" since he replaced Gao Hongbo at the helm in October last year.

Lippi leads his team into their World Cup qualifying match against Uzbekistan on Thursday evening knowing they must win against the Central Asian nation to harbour any hope of reaching the tournament in Russia next year.

China have only qualified for the World Cup on one previous occasion -- in Japan and South Korea in 2002 -- and Lippi's team are bottom of the standings in Group A of Asia's qualifying section.

But victory over Uzbekistan by a significant margin plus a win over Qatar on Tuesday could be enough to move Lippi's side into third place in the group and a berth in the playoff rounds.

"We are not in a great position in the rankings but we will try our best tomorrow," Lippi, who won the 2006 World Cup with Italy, said.

"I'm not so nervous. As a professional coach I'm happy in my job. The players have made significant progress. It shows in their confidence, skills, tactics and performance in training.

"The only unsatisfying aspect is our position in the rankings. Since taking over, the players have been improving all the time. The team has a lot of faith in their game."

China's chances of qualifying for the World Cup were already in jeopardy when Lippi took over, with only one point from their four games under Gao.

Lippi has steadied the ship, picking up only the country's second-ever win over South Korea in March, as well as draws against Qatar and Syria. The draw with Syria was particularly painful for China as an injury-time free kick from Ali Al Saleh saw Lippi's team forced to share the points.

A win against Uzbekistan, who are still in contention for a place in Russia themselves, would be a further boost for China, even though their World Cup dream has almost been extinguished.

"Uzbekistan are very tough and physically strong," Lippi said. "In their previous games they have stuck to a counterattacking style but tomorrow I hope we can have an entertaining game. They have a good team but we will focus on our own tactics."

Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.

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