- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

BEIJING (AP) - Gao Hongbo returned Wednesday as interim coach of the Chinese men’s national football team following the departure of Frenchman Alain Perrin last month.

Gao will take the helm for China’s next two World Cup qualifiers while the search for a permanent coach continues, the official Chinese Football Association said on its website. Gao led the team from 2009 to 2011.

China, third in its qualifying group for Russia in 2018, faces the Maldives at home on March 24 and Qatar on March 29. In front of it are Qatar and tiny Hong Kong, against which it has only managed two draws.

Hired in February 2015 after a lengthy search to replace Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho, former Lyon boss Perrin left over what the CFA said were concerns over his about to deliver what China’s needs to qualify for the World Cup along with the team’s future development.

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

Gao was appointed in September as an assistant manager at top-flight Dutch side ADO Den Haag, which is owned by Chinese marketing company United Vansen International Sports.

China has qualified for only one World Cup finals, in 2002, and last year launched a government-backed campaign to turn its fortunes around.

Ranked 82nd in the world, just behind Libya, the men’s 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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