China coach Marcello Lippi accepts Iran were better in World Cup qualifier
Marcello Lippi lauded Carlos Queiroz's Iran team as he conceded China still have a lot of improvements to make after seeing his side's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup diminish further with a 1-0 defeat,
Mehdi Taremi scored the only goal of the game at a packed Azadi Stadium as Iran notched up their fifth win in seven qualifiers to stand on the verge of qualifying for a second successive World Cup while China's chances of appearing in Russia slipped further.
Lippi's team remain on five points from seven matches, 12 behind the Iranians and eight adrift of South Korea, who occupy the second automatic qualifying berth for next year's finals. Uzbekistan, who defeated Qatar on Tuesday, are in third on 12 points.
"I watched Iran's match videos before the game," Lippi said. "And I think people should be more focused on the quality of our opponents' football rather than their fans.
"As the team ranked at the top of the group, Iran have never lost a game, not even conceded a goal. They can win at home, and they have done great when playing away. They are a very, very strong team."
Iran have won all three of their home games so far while picking up two wins and two draws on the road and Queiroz's side were in dominant form against the Chinese, despite only registering the one goal.
China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng was his team's standout performer despite a handling error that resulted in Taremi's goal less than a minute after the restart.
"The experience of the last two rounds has shown that there is still room for us to improve," Lippi said. "They were two good matches, but when facing a strong side like Iran our defence needs to improve.
"Iran have a solid defence. They haven't conceded or lost any games. They are an outstanding team led by a good manager. But there is still a long way to go until final qualification is decided so no one can guarantee anything.
"Today all our players have tried their best. However, we lacked a highlight moment. We need to work harder."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch