Cannavaro out as Chinese national team coach, and Guangdong sweeps way to 9th CBA title

Fabio Cannavaro Chinese national team

The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature in which China Sports Insider Mark Dreyer looks at the week that was in the China sports world.

“An increasing sense of farce is enveloping China’s national soccer team after Fabio Cannavaro quit as caretaker head coach amid speculation that his predecessor, Marcello Lippi, could return to the job in which he underwhelmed.”

It’s not often that the perfectly damning indictment of Chinese football can be found in China Daily, given the extensive “editing” process, but on this particular occasion, the paper absolutely nailed it.

Former World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner Cannavaro has followed Lippi through various coaching roles in China, first going to Guangzhou Evergrande, then branching off to make his own mark with Tianjin, before a return to Evergrande, and taking the reins of the national team squad after Lippi’s retirement in January.

But his attempts to replicate his mentor’s achievements have been largely unsuccessful.

The dual role of managing the national team while still taking charge of Guangzhou Evergrande was never likely to be a long-term arrangement for Cannavaro, with both sides appearing to feel out the situation before committing to any sort of solidified deal.

Cannavaro had claimed ahead of the China Cup tournament in March that results there would be irrelevant to whether or not he would take the job full time, but losses to Uzbekistan and Thailand in the span of just five days in Nanning helped make the decision easier.

In a Weibo post this week, he wrote that he had decided to give up the job as head coach of the national team “out of respect for the great country of China,” adding that his twin roles distracted him from his family.

Debate followed over whether or not Cannavaro was indeed up to the task, but the most surprising news then stemmed from Italy, amid reports that Lippi — who has continued to advise Cannavaro from afar — might jump back into the Chinese hot seat.

It should be stressed that Italy’s sports tabloids are about as reliable as global transfer speculation connecting out-of-favor foreign players to “unnamed Chinese clubs,” but with no other candidate — domestic or otherwise — really in the frame, it is just possible that the CFA’s begging could twist Lippi’s arm.

In truth, it’s an impossible job.

Chinese football could — and should — improve incrementally over the years, pending a drastic overhaul of the soccer system from top to bottom.

But to achieve World Cup qualification for 2022 remains an ambitious goal despite unrealistic expectations from above that can sometimes border on the realm of fantasy.

Lippi had long said he wanted to leave the job well before his eventual departure in January, despite the CFA repeatedly offering to renew his contract, and, at 71, you wonder what could make him change his mind, given that he had already turned down a huge amount of money.

But perhaps the nagging chance to take on this mountainous challenge may yet see him return.


Wu Ashun Volvo China Open Shenzhen

It’s a sign of how much things have changed over the years when a Chinese male golfer enters a European Tour event as the top ranked player in the field.

But that’s the case at this week’s Volvo China Open, with world No. 39 Li Haotong ahead of half a dozen other players from the Top 100.

However, at the halfway mark, it’s another Chinese player — Wu Ashun — who holds a two-shot lead in Shenzhen, standing at an impressive 13-under par.

Both Li and Wu are former winners of the tournament, but Li is nine shots off the pace after a poor second round.

But on the other side of the world, Zhang Xinjun has just captured his first win on the second-tier Tour, with a five-shot win at the Dormie Network Classic, securing his promotion back to the full PGA Tour for next season.

Interestingly, both Zhang and Li were signed by Nike Golf at the same time, back in 2013 when Li was just 18, joining a very exclusive group that included Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, though both have since left the brand.

Li (2) and Wu (3) are currently engaged in their own mini-battle to see who can win the most tournaments on the European Tour, but if Zhang can maintain his recent scorching form into next season, there could be a new name at the top of the tree.


Zhou YuelongLast week’s column pumped the tires of Chinese snooker star Ding Junhui — foolishly, as it turned out.

No sooner had he rallied to command a 7-9 lead over seventh seed Judd Trump, Ding promptly lost six frames in a row to crash to a 13-9 defeat in the second round of the World Championships.

With all the top seeds falling early, it was arguably Ding’s best chance to win the title he has coveted for so long — and that many have predicted he would win.

But with Ding now well into his second decade as a professional and a new wave of youngsters trying to emulate him, time may be running out.

This year’s tournament had a record six Chinese players, but Zhou Yuelong was the only other player to join Ding in the second round.

Amazingly, he had the exact same result, losing the last six frames against Ali Carter to go out 13-9.


Yi Jianlian 2019 champions

Performance of the week goes to Yi Jianlian and the Guangdong Tigers, who won the team’s ninth CBA title without losing a game in the playoffs.

Following a 3-0 win over Jiangsu and a 4-0 sweep of Shenzhen, Guangdong dismantled Xinjiang 4-0 in the Finals, with former NBA player Yi scoring 37 points and adding 16 rebounds in a 103-98 Game 4 win in Urumqi.

It was the third straight sweep in the Finals since 2017. That year, though, it was Xinjiang who dominated Guangdong.

Guangdong Southern Tigers 2019 CBA champs

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina. Follow Mark Dreyer @DreyerChina.