London-born Yennaris gets landmark China call-up

Marcello Lippi made Chinese football history on Thursday by calling up London-born former England youth player Nico Yennaris to his international squad.

Marcello Lippi made Chinese football history on Thursday by calling up London-born former England youth player Nico Yennaris to his international squad.

The former Arsenal reserve is the first naturalised footballer to be selected for China, part of moves by the government to drastically improve the team's fortunes.

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 Yennaris his landmark debut.

China had until now resisted fielding players born in other countries, but Yennaris's mother is Chinese and the midfielder joined Beijing Guoan in January registered as a domestic player.

With his paperwork to become a Chinese citizen seemingly completed, the 26-year-old -- who has taken on the Chinese name Li Ke -- is now poised to help China's bid to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“It's an honour to be selected for team China,” he wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo in English.

“I am looking forward to putting on the team China jersey and representing my country.”

China has reached the World Cup only once, in 2002, when it exited without a goal or a point.

Yennaris will undoubtedly help its cause and he has played a key role in Beijing's Chinese Super League title challenge this season.

Mother Chinese, father Cypriot

Yennaris, whose father is Cypriot, spent five years at the Championship club before moving to China at the start of the year.

He represented England at under-17, under-18 and under-19 levels, but can play for China because he is not a senior England international.

As part of his switch of nationalities, Yennaris has been learning Mandarin and said he would be proud to represent his adopted country.

China needs all the help they can get with an ageing squad and little in the way of talent coming through.

Underlining that dearth, Lippi again called up Guangzhou Evergrande skipper Zheng Zhi, who will be 39 in August.

China is ranked a lowly 74th in the world in FIFA's rankings, sandwiched between Panama and Cape Verde, but the government has grand ambitions for the country to one day host and even win a World Cup.