China turn to naturalized players to save World Cup hopes
China on Monday named five foreign-born players for critical World Cup qualifiers starting later this month as the world’s most populous country steps up its controversial naturalization policy.
China, who have big ambitions but are perennial underachievers ranked 77th in the world, began drafting in players born overseas in 2019 in a quick fix to reach the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Coach Li Tie has picked a 26-man squad that includes a trio of offensive players originally from Brazil — Elkeson, Fernando Henrique and Alan Carvalho.
Also included is their Guangzhou FC team-mate Tyias Browning, the former Everton central defender who was born in Liverpool and played for England youth teams.
The fifth naturalized player is Nico Yennaris, the former Arsenal midfielder and another to have played for England youth teams before switching to China.
In their previous World Cup qualifier, a 2-1 defeat to Syria under former coach Marcello Lippi in November 2019, only Elkeson and Yennaris featured.
Some Chinese media, pundits and former internationals have questioned the move to bring in foreign players.
China’s hopes of reaching the World Cup are in the balance but Li is boosted by the return of star forward Wu Lei, after he failed to make recent training squads because he was with his Spanish club Espanyol.
Under former Everton player Li — who took over when Lippi quit following the Syria defeat — China are second in Asian qualifying Group A, eight points behind leaders Syria.
Only the team that finishes top is guaranteed to reach the next stage of qualifying.
The rest of the matches in Group A are set to take place in China from May 30 until June 15, with the hosts facing Guam, Maldives, Philippines and Syria.