China made a winning start in Group A of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, outclassing the Maldives to claim a 5-0 victory at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
Brazilian-born Elkeson became the first player without Chinese ancestry to ever play for the national team, and capped his debut with two late goals, as China made light work of the hosts to ease to a comprehensive win.
Wu Xi, Wu Lei and Yang Xu also scored for the East Asians, who lead the way in Group A on goal difference as one of four teams on three points.
With Elkeson selected in Marcello Lippi’s starting line-up, history was made as soon as the match began, and – after receiving an early booking – it was the Guangzhou Evergrande star who got his side going, forcing Mohamed Faisal into the first of many important first-half interventions, then getting a header on target from the resulting corner.
The aerial route proved a regular source of opportunities for China, with Wu Lei and Yang both going close, before Wu Xi exploited the space, he was afforded by the Maldiviian defence to glance Li Lei’s cross into the bottom corner for the opening goal in the 33rd minute.
Another impressive stop from Faisal kept Elkeson from opening his account, but the Maldivian shot-stopper was powerless to prevent Wu Lei from doubling the lead on the stroke of half-time, as the Spanish-based star stooped to nod in Yang’s low drive and put China on the road to three valuable points.
The second half began on similar terms, with a searing run and cross from Wang Gang very nearly providing a third goal from the boot of Yang – a chance the 32-year-old should have taken – but the Maldives rallied to produce their best period of the match so far.
Captain Akram Abdull Gani rattled the crossbar with a 30-yard free-kick, and Chinese goalkeeper Yan Junling was forced into a key save from Aisam Ibrahim’s header less than a minute later as Petar Segrt’s side showed signs of life.
But just as they looked to mount a recovery, the hosts conceded a penalty, with Abdull Gani committing a foul at a corner kick, and Yang making up for his earlier misses by comfortably finding the net from the spot in the 64th minute.
The Maldives would finish with 10 men as Abdull Gani conceded a second penalty – and was shown a second yellow card – for hauling down substitute Wei Shihao, paving the way for Elkeson’s debut goal from the subsequent spot-kick in the 83rd minute.
Elkeson completed a dream debut with the simplest of close-range finishes for China’s fifth in injury time, as Lippi’s side announced their arrival in Group A with an emphatic win.