The beginning of a bold new era for Chinese football, or the first step on a long road to more national sporting humiliation? In truth, a match against the Maldives — ranked 152nd in the world — was never going to provide any conclusive answers, but China’s men’s football team did at least avoid the type of embarrassment they’ve previously proven so adept at finding by despatching of the island nation 5-0 last night. Better still, Brazilian-born striker Elkeson marked his debut for China with two goals.
Elkeson’s two late goals (one a penalty) put a nice shine on the scoreline for Chinese fans, with Espanyol winger Wu Lei also among the goals. The result puts China top of their World Cup qualifying group, albeit with just the one game played by Marcelo Lippi’s side.
It was announced in May that Elkeson, who has played in China since 2012, would be granted naturalized citizenship, allowing him to take to the field for the national team. The move was part of the Chinese Football Association’s plan for ensuring qualification to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The decision sparked widespread debate on Chinese social media and in the press about using foreign-born players, in a country where individuals taking on naturalized Chinese citizenship is rare.
China’s Plan to Get to a World Cup: Use Brazilian Players
China and the Maldives are joined in their group by Guam, the Philippines, and Syria. The group stage of the qualifying campaign in Asia will last until June next year.
Earlier, fans of Hong Kong — who are in group C with Bahrain, Cambodia, Iran, and Iraq — booed the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China in protest ahead of their 2-0 loss to Iran.
Cover photo: Elkeson (center) at the 2019 CFA Super Cup
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