SHANGHAI (AFP) - China are searching for a third coach this year after the football association accepted Marcello Lippi's resignation following the damaging loss to Syria in World Cup qualifying.
A clearly infuriated Lippi, the 71-year-old Italian World Cup winner, made a brief but angry appearance in front of the media after the 2-1 defeat on Thursday (Nov 14) in Dubai.
"My pay is very high and I take all the blame. I am quitting as China coach," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
"We could beat weaker opponents like Maldives (5-0 away) and Guam (7-0 at home), but when we encountered stronger teams like the Philippines (0-0 away) and Syria, we could not play our own football."
Lippi then abruptly left the press conference, walking out before translators had even finished interpreting what he was saying. His second spell as China coach lasted only six matches.
Hours later, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) said in a statement that it accepted Lippi's resignation.
"We are really sorry that the unsatisfactory results disappoint all Chinese fans," it said.
"The CFA will seriously reflect, rebuild the team, and try our best in the following World Cup qualifiers."
Syria's fourth-straight victory left them comfortably atop Group A in qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
China are five points behind in second, only above the Philippines on goal difference, putting their World Cup hopes in peril.
It has been a turbulent year for Chinese football and Lippi's resignation is another dent to the government's hopes of making the country a superpower in the sport.
The former Juventus and Italy boss, who was broadly popular in China, reportedly earned 180 million yuan (S$35 million) per year, making him one of the best-paid coaches in the world.
He first quit the post in January after taking China to the Asian Cup quarter-finals, where they lost 3-0 to Iran, and his compatriot Fabio Cannavaro took over.
But Cannavaro lasted only two matches - both 1-0 defeats - before saying that balancing the job with managing Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande was too much.
That saw Lippi return in May with the aim of taking China to the World Cup.
Li Tie to take over?
China languish at 69th in the Fifa world rankings and have reached the World Cup only once, in 2002, when they left without a point or scoring a goal.
Lippi, who began his first spell as China coach in October 2016, was accused earlier this month by the local media of delivering "a slap in the face" to Chinese football, amid grumblings that he was not doing enough to justify his hefty salary.
It came after the CFA announced that former Everton midfielder Li Tie would temporarily take charge of the national side at the East Asian championships next month in South Korea, with Lippi opting to remain home in Italy.
The 42-year-old Li, who played for Everton in the English Premier League during his career and is now coach of CSL side Wuhan Zall, will now be in pole position to succeed Lippi.
China have begun naturalising foreign players, such as the Brazilian forward Elkeson, but their squad remains limited.
That lack of quality was the "core" problem, said Xinhua in a commentary, refusing to blame Lippi, who lifted the 2006 World Cup with Cannavaro as his skipper.
"How many times have we blamed the loss on the head coach, the national team management etc," said Xinhua.
"But when we invited a World Cup winner... the result was still disappointing."