Marcello Lippi has refused to throw in the towel on China PR’s chances of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. China have drawn one and lost three of their opening Group A qualifiers, and trail leaders Iran, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic by nine, eighth and six points respectively.

Lippi is aware his new pupils face an uphill struggle, but believes back-to-back home victories over Qatar next month and Korea Republic in March would put them right back in the mix.

“The current national situation is very difficult,” said the 68-year-old former defender. “It seems there’s not much chance, but we need to unite as one to do everything possible to complete this improbable mission.

“Then we have to consider the issue of long-term development of Chinese football. Now we need to build a strong team, they need to have dedication.”

Lippi guided Guangzhou Evergrande to three Chinese Super League crowns and AFC Champions League glory. He also oversaw their admirable FIFA Club World Cup campaign in 2013, in which they eliminated Al Ahly and only lost 3-2 to a Ronaldinho-inspired Atletico Mineiro in a thrilling battle for bronze. Lippi revealed he was approached about becoming China coach during his Guangzhou tenure.

“The possibility was explored, but because I was coach at Guangzhou it had to be postponed. After I finished my work at Evergrande and returned to Italy, I had always been thinking about returning to China. In China I have always felt attention and respect, both for me and my team.

"China is one of the world’s most important countries and I believe I can help Chinese football progress. I believe the players are all skillful and have no need to feel inferior or envious towards players of other countries, because they can reach the same level. What they need is a sense of responsibility, mission and belief.”

China’s only World Cup participation came in 2002, when they were guided there by another foreigner: Serbian Bora Milutinovic. While the odds on them playing on the biggest stage again in 2018 appear slim, Lippi is no stranger to masterminding World Cup miracles.

“Nobody even gave us a chance,” said Lippi of Italy’s Germany 2006 campaign. La Nazionale had been eliminated by Korea Republic in the Round of 16 at the previous World Cup, and been beaten to Group C’s tickets to the knockout phase by Sweden and Denmark at UEFA EURO 2004, but memorably lifted the Trophy at the Olympiastadion.