Football

Marcello Lippi eyes Brazilian strike force for Chinese national team

The country's naturalisation programme looks set to be ramped up

Marcello Lippi's China side could soon boast an all-Brazilian attack as the ambitious country ramp up efforts to reach the World Cup for just a second time.

Lippi last week gave a debut to former England youth international Nico Yennaris, the London-born midfielder making a piece of history as China's first naturalised footballer.

But China, who under football-fan President Xi Jinping have grand designs of hosting and even winning the World Cup, are not done with drafting in players from other countries.

Shanghai SIPG's Brazilian striker Elkeson is expected to gain Chinese citizenship in time to play in the autumn qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the Beijing News said yesterday.

He could later be joined in a new-look attack by his fellow China-based Brazilians Ricardo Goulart, also a striker, and the winger Fernando, the state media publication said.

"It is understood that Elkeson's naturalisation procedures are being processed and it is expected that he will be able to join the qualifiers that begin in September," Beijing News said.

"Goulart, Fernando and others are rumoured to be naturalised, but their procedures are relatively lagging behind and it will be difficult for them to make the (initial) qualifiers."

World Cup winner Lippi returned as China coach last month, just four months after leaving following his side's exit in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup.

The Italian has long complained that, aside from Espanyol forward Wu Lei, he has few attackers at his disposal.

Bringing in overseas-born players to quickly plug the gap was central to conditions laid out by Lippi for his return, the Beijing News and other Chinese media say.

"In the future, it is likely that more naturalised players will appear in the national football team," said the Beijing News.

The 26-year-old Yennaris, a former Arsenal youth player, was given a warm welcome by Chinese fans when he made his landmark debut in Friday's 2-0 home friendly win over the Philippines.

Unlike the trio of Brazilians, he gained citizenship through his mother, who is Chinese.

Elkeson, Goulart (Guangzhou Evergrande) and Fernando (Chongqing Lifan) have no Chinese ancestry and will attempt to qualify via Fifa's residency rules, which require them to reside in their adopted country for five years.

None of the three has represented Brazil in a competitive match, leaving them free to play for China. However, many fans have expressed deep reservations about having non-Chinese origin players representing the national team.

Elkeson has been in the Chinese Super League since January 2013, when he joined then-champions Evergrande from Brazil's Botafogo.

In January 2016, he moved to Evergande's rivals SIPG and has scored 127 goals in 333 Chinese Super League games.

Following Tuesday's low-key 1-0 friendly home win over Tajikistan, Lippi was coy about the prospect of calling up more foreign-born players.

"Of course, we hope to have more good players, we need good forwards," he said.

"Wu Lei and Gao Lin (of Evergrande) are very important forwards, but if other heavyweight strikers can join, then of course that's better." - AFP

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