China's Marcello Lippi on World Cup setback: No 'what ifs' in football
Marcello Lippi refused to dwell on missed opportunities as China's hopes of a second appearance at the World Cup finals came to an end on Tuesday despite a 2-1 win over Qatar in Doha.
Xiao Zhi and Wu Lei scored the goals that saw Lippi's team pick up a third win in five games but still fall short of a place in the playoffs against Australia that would have kept their World Cup dream alive.
But with 10 points in six games since Lippi took over from Gao Hongbo last November, some Chinese fans have been contemplating the country's fate had the former Italy boss taken over the helm at the start of the final phase of qualifying.
Lippi, though, chose to focus on what lies ahead for his team as they prepare for the Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
"There are no 'what ifs' in football," he said. "What we have witnessed is the improvement of the Chinese team, both in quality and points. You could tell from this match.
"When I took over we had almost no hope of qualifying at all. The CFA [Chinese FA] hasn't set qualifying for the World Cup as one of conditions, but we fought until the end and I hope we keep improving so we can have a good result at the Asian Cup."
Lippi oversaw a huge improvement in the fortunes of China, with the 69-year-old masterminding victory over South Korea -- for only the second time in the country's history -- as China kept their slim hopes of appearing in Russia alive until the final round of games.
His side finished in fifth place in Group B of Asia's qualifying tournament, with only three points separating second-placed South Korea, Syria in third, fourth-placed Uzbekistan and China. Iran won the group with 22 points, seven more than South Korea.
"The team only had one point when I took over. Just one point," Lippi said. "We have gained 10 points since then in six matches. And we finished just slightly behind Uzbekistan and Syria.
"Now, looking back, we deserved a win in the [0-0 draw] against Qatar as we hit the woodwork three times, and their goalkeeper was also outstanding.
"And also there was the match against Syria where we were leading until the last minute. We lost four points in these two matches. If we had them, we would have qualified as the second in the pool."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch