China’s soccer federation announced Monday it has appointed Dutch coach Guus Hiddink to lead the country’s under-21 team to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The 71 year-old, who took the senior Netherlands and South Korean teams to the World Cup semifinals in 1998 and 2002 respectively, joins senior national team coach Marcello Lippi on the payroll of the Chinese Football Association (CFA).
Hiddink, who has coached Real Madrid and Chelsea as well as Russia, Turkey and Australia, has a tough job on his hands to take China to the Olympics despite his experience in Asia.
The country has never qualified for the tournament with its sole appearance coming in 2008 when Beijing hosted the games. Hiddink, who had been linked with the national team jobs in Colombia and the Netherlands, is under no illusions about the size of the task.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” Hiddink said in an interview with Dutch media after watching the team perform in a recent friendly tournament.
“To be honest, there were only four or five players in China who I thought: `Yes, they are usable.’ The rest came physically, tactically, conditionally and technically pretty short.”
To take China to Tokyo would rank alongside many achievements in Hiddink’s long career.
With Japan hosting, there are only three spots available for Asian teams at the 2020 Olympic Games and those places come through the Asia U23 Championship in January 2020. Qualification for that tournament takes place next March.