Liaoning: Former China international Ma Lin has claimed the present generation are moving in the right direction and can eventually surprise the world of football, after recovering from an “awful” start that their left FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 hopes in tatters.
After picking up just a solitary point from their opening four games in Group A, Marcello Lippi was brought in to replace Gao Hongbo as head coach and the side have since claimed four points from the Italian’s first three games in charge.
And although the change has almost certainly come too late to salvage the East Asians’ hopes of reaching Russia, Liaoning FC head coach Ma is sure things are looking up for the side he represented between 1984 and 1990.
“To be honest, the first three games were awful and I couldn’t see anything in defence or attack,” said Ma, who scored more than 20 goals for China.
“They are not playing that great yet either but better than at the start of the campaign. I think coach Marcello Lippi is taking them on the right path, but it’s a bit late now for the current World Cup as there are only a few games left.”
With China seven points adrift of third-placed Uzbekistan in the intercontinental play-off spot, and just three games remaining, only an unlikely set of results would see Lippi’s team climb into the top three.
China play Syria, who sit three points above them, in Malaysia on Tuesday while Uzbekistan travel to group leaders the Islamic Republic of Iran a day earlier. And should results go their way, it would set up an intriguing clash with the Uzbeks on the penultimate Matchday in Wuhan.
Ma, though, is looking longer term and believes a strong China can emerge but that it is not likely to be in the immediate future.
China defeat Korea Republic 1-0
“The future of the China national team really depends on the support and development of the youth players,” the former striker noted.
"It’s hard to say now [how bright the future will be], but if we support our youth development enough then for sure China can become champions of Asia and qualify for a World Cup.
“I see players born in 2002 and 2003, and I believe they are learning football the right way. I think in the next five to 10 years China can surprise the world of football.”
Ma spent the majority of his playing days with the club he now manages as Liaoning became the first Chinese side to claim continental glory by winning the Asian Club Championship back in 1990.
Ma Lin as coach of Liaoning FC
He also came desperately close to helping the national team gain their first FIFA World Cup qualification when, after giving his side the lead against Qatar in October 1989, China conceded two late goals as Korea Republic and the United Arab Emirates advanced to Italia ‘90.
“We got very close to qualifying,” added Ma. “We prepared well but sometimes the individual ability of the players was not shown enough and I believe there was a problem with the tactics.
“With Liaoning we liked to take risks and play more in attack; with the national team the coach only wanted to play on the counterattack, so some players could not show their ability.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports