Sports

Lippi eyes Brazilian strikeforce as China pursue quick fix

Hong Kong – Marcello Lippi’s China side could soon boast an all-Brazilian attack
as the ambitious country ramps 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 on Thursday.

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.”

The Italian 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 71-year-old 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.

‘We need good forwards’

The 26-year-old
Yennaris, a former Arsenal reserve, 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 (of Guangzhou Evergrande) and Fernando (Chongqing
Lifan) have no Chinese ancestry and would attempt to qualify under FIFA
rules saying they must 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 he has scored 127 goals in 333 CSL games in total.

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.”

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