SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A week after his elevation to China's national squad, Brazilian-born striker Elkeson is set to be in the thick of action for Guangzhou Evergrande as the Asian Champions League enters the quarterfinals stage.
The former Botafoga striker is the talk of Asian soccer after becoming the first player of non-Chinese heritage to be selected for the China national team. He was called up last week by head coach Marcello Lippi, and is expected to line up against Maldives on Sept. 10 in a qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup.
Before national team duties, though, Elkeson will play against Japan's Kashima Antlers in the quarterfinals of the continental club championship.
Taking the local name of Ai Kesen, Elkeson has also taken Chinese citizenship after playing in the Chinese Super League since 2013, thereby meeting FIFA's five-year residency rule.
"In addition to winning many championships and honors on the football field,I have been very happy in China in recent years," Elkeson wrote in a message to fans on social media. "Now I want to say that I am Chinese and I love this country. I want to return all the love and care you have for me over the years. I hope to get your support as always."
His goals help propel Guangzhou to the title in 2013, but Kashima presents a serious threat to Guangzhou's bid to become the first club to win the Asian Champions League three times.
Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro is looking forward to the challenge.
"Kashima is the defending champion in Asia and a strong team. We will have to be at our best," Cannavaro said. "We are in good form and going well in the league but this will be a different challenge."
Guangzhou was eliminated from the ACL by Chinese teams in the previous two seasons. A win over Kashima could set up another all-China against 2017 conqueror Shanghai SIPG in the semifinals. Shanghai, who also beat Guangzhou to the 2018 Chinese title, faces Urawa Reds of Japan on Tuesday.
Shanghai is expected to have new signing Marko Arnautovic in attack to link up with former Brazil international Hulk.
Arnautovic, signed from English Premier League team West Ham United for a fee reported to be around $30 million, has scored four goals in five games in the Chinese Super League so far. The Austrian has been struggling for fitness but coach Vitor Pereira is hoping that his new striker will be ready to start.
"He has a little knock on his leg but it should be fine," Pereira said. "He has not had much time to adjust in China but he has been playing well and we don't think it will be a serious problem."
In the western half of the tournament — the Asian Champions League is divided into two geographical zones until the final — Saudi Arabia provides three of the four teams in the quarterfinals.
Domestic rivals Al Hilal and Al Ittihad meet on Tuesday, a day after Al Nassr takes on Al Sadd of Qatar, the only non-Saudi contender from the zone.
Al Sadd, the only club from the Western division to win the title since 2005, is coached by former Spain and Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez.