(CNN)A Brazilian striker is poised to become the first footballer without Chinese ancestry to play for China.
Elkeson — who qualifies to play for China under FIFA’s residency rules having played in the country since 2013 — has been named in coach Marcello Lippi’s squad for next month’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against the Maldives.
The 30-year-old, who will use the Chinese name Aikesen, joined Guangzhou Evergrande six years ago and has helped his team win the Asian Champions League twice.
Players who are not ethnically Chinese can play for China under FIFA eligibility rules after five years of residency in that country.
Earlier this year London-born Nico Yennaris signed with Beijing Sinobo Guoan FC and swapped his British passport for a Chinese one, but Yennaris’ mother is Chinese.
On Weibo, the popular Chinese social media app, netizens have generally responded positively to the decision of Yennaris and John Hou Saeter, a Norwegian with a Chinese mother, to naturalize, because of their Chinese roots.
But the idea of Elkeson becoming Chinese through residency, rather than having Chinese blood, is a more complicated issue.
In March, the Chinese Football Association decreed that all foreign players must be educated on Communist Party values, with clubs filing a written report on their performance each month.
READ: The footballers giving up their passports to become Chinese
China hasn’t competed at a men’s World Cup since its 2002 tournament debut, but in 2011 Chinese President Xi Jinping said he had three World Cup dreams for the nation: to qualify for a World Cup, to host the tournament and to eventually win the competition.
Despite investment in the beautiful game the men’s national side is currently ranked No. 71 in the world.
Businessmen, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, have invested billions in the Chinese Super League which has resulted in a number of foreign footballers moving to China on lucrative deals.
Recently, former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini moved to Shandong Luneng while Gareth Bale was heavily linked with a summer move to Jiangsu Suning only for Real Madrid to block the transfer.
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Despite the millions of dollars in investment however not a single Super League match sold out in this 2019 season, with stadium capacity averaging at 51% full. Most of CSL teams make a loss.
And there is little sign of young players breaking through for China either with the country’s Under-19s failing to make it out of the group stages of the last two Asian Under-19 Championships which may lead to more naturalized footballers representing the country as it bids to make an impact on the world stage.