DOHA: Brazil-born striker Elkeson struck twice on his debut to give China a crushing 5-0 win over Maldives in a World Cup qualifier in Male on Tuesday.
Chinese football authorities included the 30-year-old in the national side last month in a bid to improve their chances of qualifying for the 2022 tournament in Qatar and Elkeson lived up to expectations by netting two penalties late in the Group A match at the Rasmee Dhandu Stadium.
Despite its clout as a global sporting and financial power China have qualified for the World Cup only once, leading to a change in policy that now allows naturalized foreign-born players to play for the national team.
“We want to go to Qatar (2022 World Cup),” Chen Xuyuan, new president of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), was quoted as saying by state media last month.
“Naturalized players can be helpful in order to achieve the national team’s short-term goals.
“Up to now, clubs have registered nine naturalized players with or without Chinese heritage at the CFA in total, some of them are still going through the naturalization process.”
China dominated the game and were 2-0 up at half time with Wu Xi and Wu Lei finding the net in the 34th and 45th minute, respectively.
They then won three straight penalties, with Yang Xu first scoring from the spot in the 65th minute before Elkeson made his mark with seven minutes remaining and claimed his double in stoppage time to complete the rout.
Meanwhile, Asian champions and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar were held to a stunning goalless draw by India in Doha.
They thrashed Afghanistan in their opening Group E qualifier 6-0 but were thwarted by a spirited Indian defense led by goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu who brought off a string of saves at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.
The visitors, who led Oman in their first match last week only to concede two late goals to go down 2-1, were without their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri.
Earlier, Hong Kong fans booed their own national anthem and sang in protest against Beijing’s rule as months of political unrest spilled onto the football pitch in a 2-0 defeat to Iran.
The ear-splitting disgruntlement all but drowned out “March of the Volunteers,” the anthem the semi-autonomous territory shares with mainland China, at what was Hong Kong’s first home game after a summer of upheaval.
In Riffa, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen settled for a 2-2 draw.
Mohsen Mohamed put Yemen ahead in the eighth minute, but Saudi Arabia hit back through Hattan Bahebri in the 23rd to restore parity.
An Omar Al-Dahi strike in the 37th minute gave Yemen the lead once again but the Saudis equalized through Salem Al-Dawsari three minutes into the second half to clinch a draw.
Elsewhere, Australia thrashed Kuwait 3-0 with Mathew Leckie scoring twice, South Korea beat Turkmenistan 2-0, Thailand smashed Indonesia 3-0 and the UAE edged past Malaysia 2-1.
Earlier, the Philippines brushed aside Pacific islanders Guam 4-1 for their first win of the qualifiers, Tajikistan beat Mongolia 1-0 and Singapore were 2-1 winners over Palestine.
In Yangon, Porto midfielder Shoya Nakajima and Salzburg’s Takumi Minamino were on target as Japan began their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Myanmar.