Slumped in his pitch-side seat at Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium, Marcello Lippi carried the air of a man defeated long before the final whistle blew on China’s challenge for January’s Asian Cup.
A second defensive collapse in quick succession meant Lippi’s team trailed by two goals inside the opening 31 minutes of their quarter-final meeting with Iran and, as China eventually limped out on the end of a 3-0 loss, the veteran Italian was crestfallen.
A truncated press conference - at which he refused to take questions - was followed by a swift exit as China’s Lippi era ended in despondency.
And yet, four months after that abject defeat, the former Italy coach has been lured back to the dugout for another attempt at securing an elusive World Cup berth for China, the nation’s first since their one and only appearance at the finals in 2002.
Lippi knows better than anyone the issues he will face when he attempts, once more, to make the World Cup dreams of the world’s most populous nation come true.
But the task of qualifying for 2022 will be a monumental one, made more difficult by FIFA’s decision to keep the 2022 event as a 32-team tournament.