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Brazilian boosts China's soccer

By SHI PUTIAN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-11-14 07:27
Brazilian football star Neymar, who is to make his 100th appearance with the national team in a friendly match against Senegal, speaks during a press conference in Singapore, on Oct 9, 2019. [Photo/VCG]


From Pele to Ronaldo to Neymar, Brazil's soccer superstars have been enthralling Chinese fans with their skills and flair for decades.


These days, that connection has grown even deeper as a new group of Brazilians light up the Chinese Super League, including Guangzhou Evergrande's Anderson Talisca and Shanghai SIPG pair Oscar and Hulk.


The brightest star of them all, however, is Evergrande's Elkeson (de Oliveira Cardoso), better known in China by his new name, Ai Kesen.


The fan favorite made headlines this summer when, after completing a naturalization process, he became the first player without Chinese heritage to pull on the national team's red jersey.


The 30-year-old made an instant impact, helping Team China get its 2022 World Cup qualification campaign off to a strong start with two goals in a 5-0 drubbing of the Maldives in September.


Marcello Lippi's national side will hope Ai Kesen's attacking verve can make the difference in the Nov 14 qualifier against Syria in Dubai.


"We have to be fully prepared for the match, after all, Syria is our strongest rival in Group A. We need to produce a great performance and hope we can win the game," Ai Kesen said.


Ai Kesen began his career in China in late 2012, when Evergrande signed him from Brazilian club Botafogo. Now with four CSL titles, including last year with SIPG, and two Asian Champions League winner's medals adorning his trophy cabinet, Ai Kesen is keen to repay his adopted country with the ultimate World Cup gift.


"I'm still not satisfied with what I've achieved in China. I want to pay back all the love and support that the Chinese fans have given to me over the past seven years," Ai Kesen wrote on his personal Weibo account after being called up to the national squad in August.


"I've lived a happy life in China, and China is my home. I was faced with the challenging possibility (of becoming a Chinese player), and I accept the challenge right away. I know this is the next step that I must take. Becoming a Chinese player allows me to contribute and help Team China to qualify for the next World Cup."


Brazilian soccer's influence in China, however, extends beyond the moments of magic that Ai Kesen and his former compatriots conjure on the pitch, as Chen Guoqiang, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Sport, explained to China Daily.


"The skills of Brazilian forwards greatly enhance the firepower of Chinese teams, but the relationship between Chinese and Brazilian soccer is very significant in other ways and can have a positive effect at all levels – from the national side to youth teams," said Chen.


It's not just a matter of how China can benefit, however, as Evergrande's former Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari told Soccer News in September.


"I always talked about Chinese soccer to Palmeiras players, especially the Chinese Super League," said the World Cup winner, who left Evergrande in 2017 after three trophy-filled years at the southern club.


"Many Brazilian players ask me about Chinese soccer and Chinese clubs. I tell them, if you receive an offer from a Chinese club, you should fly to China without hesitation. Based on my experience, you would be satisfied with all aspects at most Chinese clubs."


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