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Lippi urges China to unite for ‘improbable’ World Cup run

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BEIJING (AP) Marcello Lippi has urged his China team and the nation to pull together to accomplish the “improbable” task of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup before he begins a thorough overhaul of the struggling football program.

[ MORE: Will 2016/17 be the tightest Premier League title race ever? ]

The Chinese Football Association formally unveiled Lippi as head coach of China’s Dragons at a news conference on Friday, almost a week after the deal was agreed.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of PST’s PL Power Rankings ]

Chinese media reports say Lippi’s three-year contract is worth 20 million euros ($21.8 million) annually and makes him the highest paid national team coach in the world. Association officials have declined to discuss specifics of the compensation package for Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup victory in 2006.

China is ranked No. 84 by FIFA and is a perennial under-achiever in international football competition, despite massive spending on foreign players and coaches in the domestic league. High-profile managers including World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari and former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson have also arrived to take charge at Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG.

“I believe the players are all skillful and have no need to feel inferior or envy toward players of other countries, because they can reach the same level,” Lippi told reporters. “What they need is a sense of responsibility, mission and belief.”

Still, it’s unlikely China will even qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Gao Hongbo quit as head coach after the 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan earlier this month left China with just one point from four games in Asia’s last round of World Cup qualifying. China has qualified for the World Cup only once, when the tournament was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002, but was bounced out of the group stages without scoring a goal.

“In the qualification stages, our chances are not great, but what we need to do is pull together – the entire squad, the CFA, logistics, medical team – and maximize our chances and accomplish this improbable mission,” Lippi said. “After that, we can consider our long-term issues.”

Above all, the Chinese team – frequently derided by China’s soccer-loving public as a national embarrassment – needs to fix its mentality and gain self-confidence, said Lippi, who said his first priority is to psychologically evaluate his players.

“What I need to know first is why our players play very well for their club but only at 40 percent for their country,” he said. “I want to tell them it’s the highest honor to put on the country’s shirt and they need to fight and perform at the same level.”

Lippi is already familiar with Chinese football at the club level, having coached Guangzhou Evergrande from 2012 to 2015. He led Evergrande to multiple domestic titles and, most notably, the Asian Champions League trophy in 2013.

The financial details of Lippi’s arrangement remains murky, with domestic media reporting his salary will be partially paid for by the real estate group Evergrande, whose owner, Xu Jiayin, is an avid supporter of Chinese football. Other Chinese commentators have questioned whether Lippi’s services are worth the expense.

CFA president Cai Zhenhua declined to address Lippi’s salary on Friday, citing his privacy, but said the amount was fair for a manager of his credentials.

The investment is part of a national soccer push. President Xi Jinping, a big fan of the game, has made improving Chinese football from the grassroots all the way to the international level a priority of his administration, saying it could boost children’s physical education as well as national pride.

Watch Live: PL Asia Trophy – Newcastle v. West Ham, Man City v. Wolves

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Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to collect a bit of silverware on the second Premier League Asia Trophy match day of the summer.

But first, a pair of Uniteds look to get off the map after beatdowns in their tournament openers.

Newcastle United and West Ham United were both walloped in Nanjing, and old hands Steve Bruce and Manuel Pellegrini would be happy to massage a victory out of their men.

Then Pep Guardiola and PL champions City get a taste of Wolves before their Oct. 5 meeting in league play.

Below is the full schedule for Saturday’s games in Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.

Newcastle United v. West Ham United – 5 a.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Man City v. Wolves – 7:30 a.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

WATCH: Zlatan stunner answers Vela’s opener in El Trafico

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is walking it like he talks it, not that that’s anything new.

A few days after claiming superiority over LAFC superstar Carlos Vela, Ibrahimovic and his Galaxy trailed early in El Trafico via a Vela penalty.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Naturally, Zlatan took it upon himself to answer the bell with his 14th goal in 17 games.

Ibrahimovic chests a long ball onto his right foot, cooking Eduard Atuesta by pushing it into position for a tremendous lash into the LAFC goal.

And if you haven’t been following LAFC’s amazing season, Atuesta’s probably been the side’s best player after Vela, who now has 20 goals in 20 games.

Wizard stuff.

Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame

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A half-hour of the big guns wasn’t enough to get Jurgen Klopp a result against his former team.

Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster scored for Liverpool in a 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund at the University of Notre Dame on Friday.

Paco Alcacer, Thomas Delaney, and Jacob Bruun Larsen scored for the Black Yellow, who led 3-1 when mass changes began with Virgil Van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, and Andrew Robertson entering the match.

Liverpool faces Sevilla on Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Alcacer with the ball in the box is a bad idea, and the Spaniard took advantage of Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Matip to smash home from a yard outside the six.

Wilson leveled the score before halftime, but Delaney made it 2-1 in the 53rd minute when a long diagonal ball beat the Reds line and a low pass across the box went undetected.

It was 3-1 via a clever Bruun Larsen touch to wrong foot James Milner, but Brewster brought the Reds back to within one when he converted a 75th minute penalty won by Ben Woodburn.

Liverpool was without Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah, who are on break after deep summer tournament runs.

Eriksen offered big Spurs wages, but Atletico Madrid lurks

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Christian Eriksen may trade London for Madrid after all, but Marca claims it’ll be Real Madrid’s rivals who earn the services of Tottenham’s Danish playmaker.

Eriksen, 27, scored 10 goals with 17 assists for Spurs in all competitions last season, and was reportedly ready to spread his wings for Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Kean to Everton? ]

But pro-Real site Marca says Zinedine Zidane doesn’t want Eriksen at the Bernabeu, and that Diego Simeone feels differently… should Atletico Madrid fail at landing his prime option.

That’s James Rodriguez, who remains property of Real and that’s a problem.

So Eriksen to Atleti, helping to replace Antoine Griezmann? It’s possible.

From Marca.com:

Just last November, the London club put a 250 million euro price tag on his head, but now appear keen to move him on. The next few days will likely reveal a lot about what’s to come.

So we may get an idea of whether this report has any guts to it by next week. There could be some sense to it, but Metro claims that Spurs are offering Eriksen an “enormous” contract to keep him in North London.

Enormous means a doubling of Eriksen’s wages, and the Dane is said to be happy in England. Might Spurs hold off the finest of La Liga and Serie A after all.