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China ramping up its samba plan

Three naturalised players join national coach Li Tie's training camp, with more in the pipeline

China has included three naturalised players in the national squad for the first time as coach Li Tie gathers his side in Shanghai for training.

Titan Sports reported that Brazil-born forwards Elkeson and Aloisio, and former Arsenal and England youth midfielder Nico Yennaris have joined the camp.

Elkeson, 30, was the first player of non-Chinese heritage to be called up when he played last year while Yennaris, 26, has a Chinese mother and accepted citizenship last year.

A third Brazil-born player, Alan Carvalho, was also in Li Tie's plans. But the forward, 30, is waiting for travel restrictions to be eased before he can leave Brazil and return to China.

Two more players with Brazilian roots - attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart and winger Fernando - are also reportedly close to call-ups, having finalised or nearly finalised the paperwork to play for China.

The five Brazil-born players are contracted to Fabio Cannavaro's Chinese Super League (CSL) champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

Another Evergrande player, former England youth defender Tyias Browning, could also represent China this year, bringing the total number of naturalised players to seven.

It accelerates a strategy, started under ex-coach Marcello Lippi, to bring in foreign imports to bolster a squad that remains thin on talent.

"Since 2019, Guangzhou Evergrande has helped (these) six players... get their Chinese ID cards and their household registration in Guangzhou," the Guangzhou Daily reported.

"At the same time, Guangzhou Evergrande and the Chinese Football Association have been actively promoting these naturalised players to qualify for the Chinese men's national football team."

Evergrande spent 870 million yuan (S$173.7m) in transfer fees, wages and other costs on the six players, Soccer News said, citing the club's annual report.

Recruiting foreign-born players is not unique to China, but it is a new approach for the country and some experts, fans and former players have voiced concern about the quick-fix policy.

Chinese state media has generally taken the line that as long as they improve the national side and win their places on merit, they deserve to play.

Ahead of giving the 31-year-old Aloisio his call-up, Li Tie signalled that he will take a pragmatic approach.

"Undoubtedly, naturalised players can make the national team stronger," he said.

"As long as you have the ability, a sense of belonging to China and a sense of collective honour, you can be selected for the squad." - REUTERS, AFP

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