Elkeson determined to rev China's World Cup engine
China Daily

Elkeson immediately set his sights on World Cup qualification after officially beginning his new life as a Team China international.


Elkeson of Guangzhou Evergrande celebrates after scoring a goal during the AFC Champions League 2014. (Photo: IC)

The Brazil-born Guangzhou Evergrande forward is poised to become the second naturalized player - but the first without Chinese ancestry - to don the red shirt of the national team after being named to coach Marcello Lippi's squad for a Sept 10 World Cup qualifier in the Maldives.

Confirming the news on Thursday, Elkeson, who will go by the Chinese name Ai Kesen, wrote on social media: "Today I want to tell the world that I've started a new journey and now I'm Chinese.

"I'm still not satisfied with what I've achieved in China. I want to pay back all the love and support that the Chinese fans have given to me over the past seven years.

"I've lived a happy life in China and China is my home. I was faced with the challenging possibility (of becoming a Chinese player), and I accept the challenge right away.

"I know this is the next step that I must take. Becoming a Chinese player allows me to contribute and help Team China to qualify for the next World Cup."

Elkeson joins another foreign-born player, Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris), on Lippi's 35-man squad for the Group A opener against the Maldives.

Li, born in London to a Chinese mother, became the first naturalized player to be capped by China in a 2-0 friendly victory over the Philippines in June.

"Honored to receive my second call-up to Team China," midfielder Li wrote on Weibo on Wednesday. "I can't wait to meet up with the staff and my teammates for the qualifying games."

John Hou Saeter, a Norwegian with a Chinese mother, was naturalized around the same time as Beijing Guo'an teammate Li, changing his name to Hou Yongyong.

However, unlike the Guo'an duo, Elkeson has no Chinese heritage and instead qualifies to play under FIFA's five-year residency rule.

There was mixed reaction to the Elkeson news online, with some fans concerned about the effect the call-up might have on developing homegrown players; others were simply glad China has acquired extra help up front for Espanyol striker Wu Lei.

Elkeson's Weibo post attracted over 45,000 likes till Thursday afternoon while topics related to the news were viewed over 26 millions times.

Brazilian Anderson Talisca, Elkeson's Evergrande teammate, was one of many to send his best wishes.

"I hope he can score goals for the national team just like at our club," said Talisca. "I hope he can help Team China achieve great results. I wish him the best of luck."

Elkeson, who has scored more than 100 goals in the Chinese Super League, arrived at Evergrande from Brazilian side Botafogo for 5.7 million euros ($6.4 million) in 2012.

He proved an instant hit, bagging 24 goals to finish as top scorer in the 2013 CSL season and going on to help the southern club win the Asian Champions League twice.

Evergrande cashed in on Elkeson with a 18.5 million euro switch to Shanghai SIPG in 2016, with the forward helping his new team to its first CSL title last season.

Last month, Elkeson returned to Evergrande.

"This country has been trying hard to develop soccer and many people in the world still know so little about what it's like here. China only entered the World Cup once," Elkeson wrote on Weibo.

"Personally speaking, it was a gamble in my career, but Guangzhou Evergrande's blueprint made me believe that I can create my own history here.

"In such a short time, we have won many trophies. But I want a new challenge. I want to see how far I can push my limit."

China's only World Cup appearance was in 2002, when Japan and South Korea were co-hosts. The team lost all three of its group games while failing to score a goal.

Massive investment in soccer in recent years has so far failed to improve the national team's fortunes, with Lippi's current crop ranked 71st in the world.