Alain Perrin out as China national team coach

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BEIJING (AP) — Former Lyon boss Alain Perrin is out as the Chinese men's national team coach after slightly less than two years in the job.

The Chinese Football Association said in a statement Friday that the Frenchman was departing following discussions between both sides. The search for a replacement would begin immediately.

The statement heaped praise on Perrin for his hard work and strict management style, and for bringing new life to a team that has been a persistent underperformer.

However, the CFA said the decision to part ways was taken after considering the team's needs in qualifying for the next stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the "future development" of the team.

China currently sits in third place in its World Cup qualifying group behind Qatar and tiny Hong Kong, against which it has only managed two draws. China's next match is March 24 at home against the Maldives, which it defeated 3-0 in September.

Perrin was hired in February 2015 after a lengthy search to replace Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho, who was sacked following a humiliating 5-1 loss to minnow Thailand. Perrin has previously coached at clubs such as Marseille, Portsmouth, Saint-Etienne and Lyon, which he led to its seventh consecutive Ligue 1 title in 2007.

Under the Frenchman, China won all three of its group stage games in last year's Asian Cup to reach knock-out round for the first time in 11 years, before being eliminated by eventual winner Australia.

Although football is wildly popular in China, the national squad has qualified for only one World Cup — the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, where it failed to score and lost all three of its matches in the group stage.

Ranked 82nd in the world, just behind Libya, the team has long suffered from a weak youth system, corruption and mismanagement by government bureaucrats in the CFA.

A series of foreign coaches has been hired in hopes of sparking improvement, including England's Bobby Houghton, Dutchman Arie Haan and Serbia's Bora Milutinovic, who took the team to the 2002 World Cup.

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