China’s national team is going global.

In a bid to qualify for the World Cup at Qatar 2022, the country’s football, or soccer, team could soon field a side made up almost entirely of overseas players.

The switch of emphasis could see nine stars from China’s multi-million-dollar foreign legion switching allegiance.

Earlier this week, Brazil-born striker Elkeson became the first player without Chinese heritage to be named in the national squad.

The 30-year-old is poised to make his debut next month in a World Cup qualifier in the Maldives, where London-born Nico Yennaris, who is known as Li Ke and is half-Chinese, will probably win his third cap.

“We want to go to Qatar [2022 World Cup],” Chen Xuyuan, the new president of the Chinese Football Association, or CFA, told state media.

“Naturalised 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,” he added.

Chen was only named to the top post in Chinese football on Thursday and made it clear that more naturalized players will represent the national side as World Cup qualification progresses.

“But it will never be a long-term policy of the CFA and the numbers will be very limited,” Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying.

The world’s most populous nation has reached football’s biggest stage only once, in 2002, but left without a point or scoring a goal.

Several Brazilian attacking players from the Chinese Super League are reportedly among those being naturalized, as is English-born defender Tyias Browning.

The decision to give passports to players born elsewhere particularly when they have no Chinese ancestry – has divided fans.

Some say the CFA should do everything it can to help national coach Marcello Lippi’s side reach only China’s second World Cup.

Others say that a country of 1.4 billion people should easily be able to find 11 players good enough.

The world’s most populous nation has reached football’s biggest stage only once, in 2002, but left without a point or scoring a goal.

This not good enough, according to President Xi Jinping. He wants China to become a major power in world football by 2050.

But that will need an infusion of foreign talent in the short-term as Lippi’s team is languishing 71st in the FIFA rankings.

Chen also reiterated China’s plan to stage a World Cup, also part of Xi’s grand ambitions.

“Hosting the World Cup is a dream of all Chinese fans, including me,” Chen said but declined to say when the country will make its move.

“The CFA will analyze and find out when is the best timing to bid,” he added.

– with reporting from AFP