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August 22, 2019

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China names Elkeson in World Cup squad

CHINA named Elkeson in its squad yesterday for its opening World Cup qualifier with the Brazilian poised to become the first without Chinese ancestry to play for the country.

The move has divided Chinese football fans and experts, however, as coach Marcello Lippi attempts to guide the nation to only its second World Cup.

Lippi has long complained about a dearth of attacking options and has moved to plug the gap with the 30-year-old striker, who will use the Chinese name Ai Kesen.

The move to naturalize the Brazilian comes after China similarly gave a passport to London-born midfielder Nico Yennaris.

The Beijing Guo’an player has taken the Chinese name Li Ke and made his debut for Lippi’s side in June this year.

The former Arsenal man, however, is half-Chinese, whereas Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkeson qualifies for China having played in the country since 2013.

Elkeson has scored more than 100 goals in about 150 games in the Chinese Super League.

Along with former SIPG and current Espanyol forward Wu Lei and Yennaris, Elkeson is part of a 35-man squad named by Italian World Cup winner Lippi for China’s game in the Maldives on September 10.

Elkeson appears likely to be the start of a growing trend for perennial under-achiever China, which languishes at 71st in the FIFA rankings and made the World Cup just once, in 2002.

Fellow Brazilians Ricardo Goulart and Fernando are both reportedly set to be naturalized, along with English defender Tyias Browning, also of Evergrande.

Although many other nations, notably 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, call up players born in other countries, China had resisted doing so until now. Fans and pundits have backed the naturalization policy.

Others brand it short-sighted and question why a country with a population of 1.4 billion cannot find homegrown players that are good enough. “It’s not in line with the original intention of football and the long-term development of the industry in China,” an opinion piece by Vning said.


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