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Ex-Arsenal hopeful becomes first foreign-born player to be called up by China

China had resisted fielding players born in other countries, but Nico Yennaris has broken the mould.

Nico Yennaris at Arsenal in 2013.
Nico Yennaris at Arsenal in 2013.
Image: EMPICS Sport

MARCELLO LIPPI MADE Chinese football history today by calling up London-born former England youth player Nico Yennaris to his international squad.

The former Arsenal reserve is the first naturalised Chinese to be selected for the country, part of moves by the government to drastically improve the team’s fortunes.

World Cup-winner Lippi has returned as China coach — having left the post in January — and for his first game back, a friendly against the Philippines on 7 June, he looks set to give Yennaris his landmark debut.

China had until now resisted fielding players born in other countries, but Yennaris’s mother is Chinese and the midfielder joined Beijing Guoan in January registered as a domestic player.

With his paperwork to become a Chinese citizen seemingly completed, the 26-year-old — whose Chinese name is Li Ke — is now poised to help China’s bid to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. China have reached the World Cup only once, in 2002, when they exited without a goal or a point.

Yennaris will undoubtedly help their cause and he has played a key role in Beijing’s Chinese Super League title challenge this season.

Chinese media reports suggest that Lippi would also like to call up the strikers Ricardo Goulart and Elkeson, but unlike Yennaris, the Brazilians have no Chinese ancestry.

Chinese football fans are broadly supportive of the move to include Yennaris, but are deeply sceptical of naturalising those with no family links to the country.

Yennaris came through the youth ranks at Arsenal but only made one Premier League appearance and moved to second-tier Brentford in 2014. Yennaris, whose father is Cypriot, spent five years at the Championship club before moving to China at the start of the year.

Brentford v Brighton and Hove Albion - Sky Bet Championship - Griffin Park Yennaris was at Brentford before joining Beijing Guoan earlier this year. Source: John Walton

He represented England at U17, U18 and U19 levels, but can play for China because he is not a senior England international.

As part of his switch of nationalities, Yennaris has been learning Mandarin and said he would be proud to represent his adopted country.

China need all the help they can get, with an ageing squad and little in the way of talent coming through. Underlining that dearth, Lippi again called up Guangzhou Evergrande skipper Zheng Zhi, who will be 39 in August.

China are ranked a lowly 74th in the world in Fifa’s rankings, sandwiched between Panama and Cape Verde, but the government has grand ambitions for the country to one day host, and even win, a World Cup.

First, however, with the 71-year-old Lippi back at the helm, they face the Philippines and Tajikistan four days later in another low-key friendly.

Under interim coach Fabio Cannavaro, China lost their last two matches, to lower-ranked Thailand and Uzbekistan.

© – AFP, 2019

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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