About one month before the second round of the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualification, the excitement among Chinese football fans is growing as new players who became naturalized in China are expected to showcase high-level performance. The Chinese media said “South Korean and Japanese national teams will be afraid of the Chinese team,” reporting the news that Elkeson from Brazil, the best foreign player of the Chinese Super League, joined the national football team of China. Elkeson has scored over 130 goals since he started playing in the Super League in 2013.
China, which has been focusing on attracting the second generation biracial players including Nico Yennaris, has shifted its attention to inviting foreign players to be neutralized in the country. Superstars originally from outside China, such as Elkeson mentioned above and another Brazilian player Ricardo Goulart, are joining the Chinese national team after neutralization. These massive investments will transform the national football team of China.
This neutralization tactic of China is a desperate measure to secure a spot in the 2022 Qatar World Cup finals. The Chinese football circles need to demonstrate improved performance in response to President Xi Jinping’s call for football reform. Back in 2011, Xi expressed his three wishes for Chinese football – “to qualify for, host, and win a World Cup.” The South Korea-Japan World Cup in 2002 was the only time that China ever made it to the finals at World Cup. Massive investments have been made but it hasn’t been easy for China to make a leap forward.
The once-resigned-and-returned manager of the Chinese national team, Marcello Lippi, set the condition of the neutralization of foreign players before he rejoined the team. He believed there was no other way for China to be qualified for the World Cup finals. Qatar’s success also must have influenced China’s neutralization tactic. Qatar beat both South Korea and Japan and won the Asian Cup for the first time early this year. The national team of Qatar, the host country of the 2022 World Cup, now has six neutralized players, one of which is Almoez Ali who won the top scorer award and MVP at the Asian Cup.
However, this is not to say that the Chinese football community is simply full of confidence. One of the reasons making its self-doubt grow is Kim Shin-wook, a South Korean player who transferred from the K League to the Chinese Super League. Kim scored eight goals in five matches after moving from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motor to Shanghai Shenhua. As Kim, who is arguably not the most critical player of the South Korean national team, is showcasing performance comparable to the neutralized superstars of China, such as Elkeson, China is getting a reality check about its possibility to advance to the World Cup finals.