Brazil B: Why pandemic may boost China's World Cup chances

Brazil-born Elkeson after playing for China Source: Getty Images

The Chinese national team has long been one of Asian football’s great underperformers but the Coronavirus might be the circuit-breaker that pushes 'Team Dragon' to a whole new level.

The global pandemic has effectively delayed everything in football: the Euros and Copa America are back a full year while the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers could push deep into the tournament year itself.

For China, this extra breather means they’ll gain the necessary time to sort out the paperwork that could improve their squad dramatically.

And they need some help: they're currently equal second with the Philippines, behind Syria, in their second-round qualification group. It's been a patchy start.

Yet by the time the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 are complete, China could boast arguably the best front third in Asian football. But how?

This is the after-effect of Chinese clubs briefly taking the football world by storm around five or so years ago, outlaying huge sums to bring players to the Chinese Super League.

Most left the CSL in a couple of years, but a string of high profile (and uncapped) Brazilians stayed.

The silver lining is that it has provided China with a brief but unexpected window to make an impact on the international stage.

Already, iconic striker Elkeson has made an impression since transitioning from Brazil to China, scoring three goals in his first four internationals.

The 31-year-old will be around for at least one World Cup campaign and possibly the 2023 Asian Cup on “home” soil, too. 

Several more Brazilian superstars should be cleared to play for China over the next year, spearheaded by one of the best midfielders in Asia, Ricardo Goulart.

The 29-year-old is awaiting FIFA clearance to play for China, having played just a solitary friendly for Brazil.

There is some discussion about whether a short loan stint at Palmeiras in 2019 will affect his eligibility, but as he was still owned by Guangzhou Evergrande at the time (he has since moved to Heibei China Fortune), the Chinese FA is confident he will be allowed to play.

Aloísio, 32, boasts a prolific strike rate in the CSL since leaving Brazilian giants São Paulo in 2014.

He has already been cleared for China and will likely make his debut as soon as international football resumes.

He’ll be battling for a starting place up front against Alan Carvalho, who renounced his Brazilian passport to gain a Chinese one last year.

He cost Guangzhou Evergrande A$18 million when they bought him from Red Bull Salzburg in 2015.

Carvalho has already been called up to training camps and with his FIFA clearance due soon, the 31-year-old – who played three friendlies for Brazil’s under-20 team and once declared he wanted to play for Austria – will be rushed immediately into the fray.

Behind the strike force and alongside Goulart in midfield and could be Fernando Henrique. The winger’s nationality looms as a real prize, having arrived in China in 2015 at the age of just 22. That means he can have a much longer run in a red shirt.

With China’s current footballing superstar, Wu Lei, on the left side of midfield, Henrique on the right, and Goulart in the middle, China’s midfield might be as good as their attack.

We haven't even mentioned Renatinho, a dazzling pint-sized left-winger who could easily deputise for Wu Lei. It's not impossible that they could field a team where the only Chinese-born players are the defenders and the goalkeeper.

The midfield could be anchored by Nico Yennaris, an Arsenal graduate who boasts 144 Championship matches with Brentford, and currently plays with Beijing Guoan – qualifying for the national team through his grandparents. An England under-19 representative, he’s already played five times for China.

Former England under-21 representative Tyias Browning is also eligible via the same method as Yennaris but the Guangzhou Evergrande defender will need to dominate the local league first. No Chinese side has looked even half as cosmopolitan as this one might.

They can't get everyone, however. By virtue of playing underage tournaments for Brazil, Alan Kardec and Alex Teixeira are tied to the fatherland under current FIFA rules. Even former Chelsea star Oscar said "if the China national team need one good midfielder, I can help if they change [the rules]" – despite playing 47 times for the Seleção.

Idolised striker Muriqui has played over five years in China collectively but not consecutively.

And yet, there's still more Brazilians if manager Li Tie fancies them.

Henan Jianye’s Ivo has the class to be Goulart's back-up but turns 34 in October, which may count against him.

Shijiazhuang’s evergreen striker Matheus, plus Nei Mongol pair Guto and Dorielton also qualify but aren't on the radar for the national team.

Ultimately, while some rival nations might be concerned, the truth is that the players who are selected are in the latter stages of their careers.

So while China's homegrown heroes are still being developed in preparation for future World Cups, naturalisation will transform their chances of qualifying for this one.

Source SBS The World Game