China's head coach Marcello Lippi said his players were "physically and mentally tired" / © AFP/File
Marcello Lippi refused to blame his players after China were held to a stale 1-1 home draw by 99th-ranked Palestine on Tuesday in their last warm-up game before the Asian Cup.
With less than 50 days until the regional showpiece in the UAE, China's failure to defeat the Palestinians will trigger another spasm of soul-searching about the perennially underachieving national side.
China, 75th in the FIFA rankings, went ahead when defender Feng Xiaoting popped up with a towering header from a set piece on nine minutes on the southern island of Hainan.
But Lippi's men retreated deeper and deeper in the second half and paid the price just after the hour when Alexis Norambuena found himself in space inside the box for the visitors, slipping the ball coolly under goalkeeper Yan Junling after China's defence went AWOL.
The 70-year-old Italian World Cup winner Lippi looks set to retire after January's Asian Cup, but his hopes of leaving football on a high look as remote as ever as China again failed to fire.
Lippi, who refused to talk about his future afterwards, said: "Now is the end of the league season and the players are physically and mentally tired.
"We made some mistakes but I did not blame the players in the changing room," Chinese media quoted him as saying.
"We created a lot of opportunities in the first half and made changes in the second.
"I am satisfied with the players... I have confidence in our players."
Xi Jinping, China's football-fan president, wants China to host a World Cup and become a major force in international football.
But under Lippi, reportedly one of the best-paid coaches in football, China have won just one of their last five matches and are ranked a rung below war-torn Syria.
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