Marcello Lippi’s second stint as China manager got off to the perfect start on Friday night with a 2-0 win over the Philippines in Guangzhou.
Former Arsenal academy product Nico Yennaris, now also known as Li Ke, became the first nationalized Chinese footballer to represent the men’s national team during the win. He looked assured on his first start, playing 55 minutes before being subbed. Goals from Jiangsu Suning’s Wu Xi and Beijing Guo’an attacking midfielder Zhang Xizhe sealed a comfortable 2-0 win over a struggling Filipino side.
London-born Yennaris was brimming with pride afterwards, commenting: “I learnt [the national anthem] when I first came so it’s step-by-step. I’ll continue my studies and hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to do an interview in Chinese, maybe.”
After impressing during his time at Brentford in the Championship, Yennaris joined Beijing Guo’an in January, with boss Roger Schmidt keen to bolster his attacking options from midfield.
Fellow Beijing Guo’an midfielder John Hou Sæter, or Hou Yongyong, is another newly nationalized player after receiving citizenship earlier this year. The hot prospect was born and raised in Norway but qualifies through his Chinese mother. The 21-year-old didn’t make Lippi’s squad this time out but is certainly a player that the CFA will be looking to utilize in the future alongside Yennaris.
As for the future of nationalized players, Tyias Browning, who was once thought to be one of England’s brightest young stars, has five England U21 caps to his name after impressing during his time at Everton and loan spells in England’s second tier. Having swapped the blue of Merseyside for the red of Guangzhou, the versatile defender is currently going through the process of naturalizing before he will become available for Chinese selection.
Elsewhere, the CFA remain in talks with Brazilian duo Elkeson, of Shanghai SIPG, and compatriot Ricardo Goulart of Guangzhou Evergrande. Both forwards have represented their native Brazil, however only in friendlies and therefore would be allowed to switch allegiances to play for another nation.
[Cover image via @中超咖吧/Weibo]