Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkeson will become the first football player without any Chinese ancestry to play for Team China on the international stage. According to multiple sources from Chinese media, Elkeson is expected to be called up for the upcoming games in the World Cup qualifying tournament starting in September.
The 30-year-old football player has received his citizenship certificate from the Chinese officials and will join Marcello Lippi’s team to seek a chance to enter the final stages of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
After failing to qualify for four consecutive World Cup Finals after 2002, the Chinese football association officials finally decided to try naturalizing foreign talents in a bid to get better chances of making it through the qualification games.
Prior to recruiting the long-time Guangzhou Evergrande striker, the Chinese squad had signed the England-born midfielder Nico Yennaris, known under his Chinese name Li Ke in the national squad. Yennaris’ mother is Chinese, and he played in a friendly match against the Philippines earlier in June.
This is the sixth season the Brazil-born Elkeson spent in the top Chinese Football league. In 2013, the footballer joined Guangzhou Evergrande and won three consecutive Chinese league champions. Elkeson later joined another competitive Chinese football club Shanghai SIPG, and helped the team break Guangzhou Evergrande’s eight-year-long streak in dominating the championship title in the Chinese Super League.
With four Chinese Super League titles, Elkeson also helped Guangzhou Evergrande win two AFC Club Championship titles in 2013 and in 2015. In 2019, Elkeson returned to Guangzhou Evergrande to continue his professional football career.
Throughout his six-season-long professional football career in China, Elkeson scored a total of 98 goals as of August 19, making him one of the best scorers in the league. Elkeson was a two-time leading scorer in the Chinese league in 2013 and 2014.
China was assigned into Group A of the second round of the AFC qualifying tournament, and will play against Syria, the Philippines, the Maldives, and Guam in the upcoming games.
While Elkesson’s presence in the Chinese national team will ensure that the team has better offence, the naturalization policy adopted by the Chinese Football Association faced criticism from the Chinese football professionals. Earlier last week, Pandaily reported that Hao Haidong, one of the most prominent figures in the history of Chinese football, openly criticized the naturalization policy as short-sighted and lacking long-term impact.