Iran boss Carlos Queiroz described Marcello Lippi as one of the greats of world football after ending the Italian’s reign as China coach in brutal fashion at the Asian Cup.
Lippi stepped down as planned after his side were crushed 3-0 by title-chasing Iran in Thursday’s quarter-final, a humiliating way to bow out for the 70-year-old, who could barely conceal his anger after the game.
“It was a privilege to coach side-by-side with Mr Lippi,” said Queiroz. “The work that he did with China was fantastic. He is probably one of the best coaches in football history.”
Lippi steered his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 but won just 12 of 31 games since taking charge of China’s national team in October 2016.
Despite a truly abject performance against Iran – and the embarrassing gulf in class – Queiroz compared Lippi to former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, in terms of the Italian’s impact on football.
“China made a great evolution under Lippi,” said the former Real Madrid coach, who twice had spells as Ferguson’s assistant manager at Old Trafford.
“The players are better prepared, better organised. It’s a pity Mr Lippi won’t continue with the Chinese but of course that’s his decision,” added Queiroz.
“These great coaches can only bring improvement – giant coaches like (Fabio) Capello, Lippi, Alex Ferguson, built the game in the last 20 years.”
Lippi refused to take questions after China’s capitulation against Iran, but was visibly upset at the manner of his team’s defeat.
“You can’t gift a team as dangerous as Iran three goals,” he growled, giving no indication of his future plans.
“You just can’t legislate for that kind of thing. I really wish it didn’t have to end on such a gloomy note.”
Lippi’s departure leaves 76th-ranked China hunting for a new coach, but football’s sleeping giants – who have qualified for the World Cup just once, in 2002 – appear to favour foreign know-how.
Veteran Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who famously led South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, took charge of China’s under-21 side last year as they target success at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Lippi, meanwhile, claimed his tenure in China, where he was reportedly one of the world’s highest-paid coaches, had indeed been a successful one.
“My contract is over but it has been a huge honour to coach the national team of such a big country as China,” said the former Juventus, Napoli and Inter Milan boss.
“I tried my best to help the team improve and I think in a large part I succeeded. China will always have a place in my heart.”