SHANGHAI: China coach Marcello Lippi said the much-maligned national side are “on the right track” as they prepare to take on Serbia and Colombia in a pair of testing home friendlies.
Lippi failed to steer China into just a second World Cup in their history but results have improved since he took over in October 2016, propelling them up to 57 in the FIFA rankings, their highest spot since 2004.
China take on Serbia on Friday in Guangzhou and Lippi, who masterminded his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, said: “After I took over the team it has improved a lot.
“The team has performed well, especially in the last six games in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Although we failed to nail third place in the group in order to fight for the World Cup (via playoffs), the team is on the right track and there is room to grow.”
The decorated Italian coach said he wants to gradually draft in younger players as he attempts to decrease the average age of the squad.
The Chinese government, under football fan President Xi Jinping, has made it a priority to improve the national team, who have long been considered an embarrassment at home.
Lippi called on Chinese fans to give the team their full backing for the Serbia game and again when they host Colombia next Tuesday in Chongqing.
Both opponents will be at the World Cup in Russia next year and Lippi said: “This year’s (Chinese) league matches are all over now so fans in the country can shift their focus to the national team and support the team.
“I believe the upcoming matches will be amazing and I call for you all to come to the stadium to support our national team, fight together with them and be our strongest support.”