SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Brazilian-born striker Elkeson scored twice on his debut for China in a 5-0 win over the Maldives in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, just a month after becoming a Chinese citizen.
The 30-year-old Elkeson, who has been one of the stars of the Chinese Super League since 2013, is the first player of non-Chinese heritage to be called up to the national team.
Now known as Ai Kesen, the striker scored two late goals after the visitors were already 3-0 up as coach Marcello Lippi’s team got off to a winning start in Group A. China is trying to qualify for a first World Cup since its sole appearance in 2002.
In Hong Kong, however, the city’s months of protesting was taken into the sporting realm as China’s national anthem was booed loudly by thousands of soccer fans, who also turned their backs when the anthem was played before a qualifier against Iran. The crowd broke out into “Glory to Hong Kong,” a song reflecting their campaign for more democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Iran beat Hong Kong 2-0 in the Group C game.
Three of Asia’s leading teams also picked up victories in their opening games in the second round of qualification, with Japan, South Korea and Australia all comfortably winning away games.
Japan beat Myanmar 2-0 in Yangon. A spectacular strike from outside the area by Shoya Nakajima after 16 minutes put Japan in control. Takumi Minamino ensured Japan led 2-0 by halftime.
Japan reached the second round of the 2018 World Cup and is bidding for a seventh successive finals appearance.
A goal in each half gave South Korea a 2-0 win in Turkmenistan in Group H, which North Korea leads after wins at home against Lebanon and away in Sri Lanka. The South Koreans are aiming to qualify for a 10th consecutive World Cup. Australia kicked off its campaign with a 3-0 victory in Kuwait in Group B after two first-half goals from Mathew Leckie and a strike from Aaron Mooy.
Saudi Arabia opened with a 2-2 draw against Yemen in Bahrain in its Group D opener.
Only the top team from the eight groups and the four best second-placed finishers progress to the next stage.
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