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China call up first-ever non-Chinese player

Elkeson, Guangzhou Evergrande
Brazilian-born Elkeson has been called up by China.

Brazilian-born striker Elkeson is the first player of non-Chinese heritage to have been included in the China squad, after he was called up for their 2022 World Cup qualifier against Maldives on Sept. 10.

The decision follows weeks of speculation the Guangzhou Evergrande forward had been awarded citizenship in the country after playing in the Chinese Super League since 2013, thereby meeting FIFA's five-year residency requirements.

- World Cup 2022 qualifying: All you need to know

The inclusion of Elkeson is historic and there have been reports in China that other Brazilians in the league such as Ricardo Goulart, Alan Carvalho, Aloisio and Fernandinho could follow in his footsteps.

Elkeson, two-time winner of the Chinese Super League golden boot, may be the first player of non-Chinese heritage to be called up, he is not the first naturalised player in the China squad.

English-born midfielder Nico Yennaris has a Chinese mother and was signed by Beijing Guoan in January. The former Arsenal midfielder, now known as Li Ke, took Chinese citizenship and made his national team debut in June.

While Yennaris's national selection did not provoke much debate due to his family ties to China, the same cannot be said of Elkeson. Reaction in China has been mixed at the latest push to take the country to the World Cup for the first time since their debut appearance in 2002.

Former striker Hao Haidong, who played at that World Cup, has spoken out about drafting in the likes of Elkeson, a policy that has reportedly been strongly pushed by Marcello Lippi as the Italian returned to the country in May for a second spell as head coach.

"The naturalised players in our football team nowadays, they have no blood ties with the country," Hao said in July. "This is scary.

"Are we becoming better even if we become the world champion? So just because the FIFA policy allows naturalisation, should countries around the world do that?"

China have been drawn in Group A in the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup along with Syria, Philippines, Guam and opening game opponents Maldives. The top team from each of the eight groups plus the four best-placed runners-up will progress to the third round.

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