Naturalized Li Ke gets landmark China call-up for 2022 World Cup qualifiers
Marcello Lippi made Chinese football history on Thursday by calling up Beijing Guoan's midfielder Li Ke to his international squad.
The former Arsenal and Brentford player Li, whose English name is Nicholas Yennaris, was born and grew up in England and is eligible to play for China through his mother, who was born in the country. He joined Beijing Guoan in January this year and has taken Chinese citizenship.
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 June 7, looks set to give Li Ke his landmark debut.
"It's an honor to be selected for team China," Li Ke wrote on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
"I am looking forward to putting on the team China jersey and representing my country."
Lippi's squad at the continental championship had the oldest average age of the 24 nations competing and is in desperate need of rejuvenation ahead of China's attempt to secure a spot at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Lippi again called up Guangzhou Evergrande skipper Zheng Zhi, who will be 39 in August.
China will start their campaign to qualify for the finals for the first time since 2002 in September, with the games against the Philippines and Tajikistan in Guangzhou on June 7 and 11 respectively the only warm-ups planned ahead of their first qualifiers.
China ranked 74th in the world in FIFA's rankings, with the 71-year-old Lippi back at the helm, the country has grand ambitions to reach the 2022 World Cup.
(With input from AFP, Reuters)