Chen Zhizhao makes Corinthians debut

Chen Zhizhao makes Corinthians debut

By Tiago Bontempo

More than seven months after being signed, 24-year-old forward Chen Zhizhao finally made his official debut for Corinthians, becoming the first Chinese player to feature in Brazil’s top division.

Chen Zhizhao during his Corinthians debut

Zhizhao came on for the final 13 minutes and, although his team’s defeat at the hands of Cruzeiro could not be avoided, Zhizhao impressed with an energetic display and skillful moves, including a back heel pass.

Officially presented in March 1st, no one knew what to expect from the former Nanchang Hengyuan man. As a matter of fact, not much was expected as even the Brazilian club itself did not try to conceal that the Chinese player was brought more for marketing purposes than for his ability as a footballer.

But as the time was passing we had nothing suggesting the Chinese player was a chance to play. To make things worse, he suffered two shoulder injuries and even had to go under surgery.

In the meantime, Corinthians won the Copa Libertadores for the first time in its history and sealed a ticket for Club World Cup in Japan next December. As this tournament is the most important trophy a Brazilian team could achieve, the national league was not a priority anymore.

When the São Paulo club reached 43 points and eighth place last week, the season objective of avoiding relegation was already completed and they would rest their starters, using mostly reserve players for the remaining eight matches while preparing for CWC.

For this away match against Cruzeiro, Corinthians had no less than 12 players unavailable through injury, suspension or just being rested. The big chance for ‘Zizao’, as he was nicknamed, had finally come.

There was a huge commotion among supporters and even TV programs for convincing manager Tite the he was deserving to play.

For the fifth time this year, he started on the bench. Not surprisingly for a team playing with the reserves away from home, Corinthians struggled and was losing by 2-0 in the second half. In the 80th minute, Zhizhao was called by Tite. Wearing the number 200 (a commemorative number for the 200th anniversary of Chinese immigration to Brazil), he entered the pitch while the supporters shouted his name.

He could not make the difference or take part in any dangerous scoring chances, but what impressed the most is that he was not afraid of playing, engaging the defenders and trying something different.

“When I go to the field, I feel good. Because I can play, I feel good. Unluckily, today we lost, but we will play better next game,” said Zhizhao in English after the game, showing that communication is not that much of a problem for him.

He had an English translator at the sidelines giving him the coach’s instructions.

It was definitely a positive display and he can hope to get more appearances in some of their next few matches too. It depends on him now to show he has the skills and was not signed just for the silly and naïve objetive of making his club famous in China.

Who knows Zhizhao could even feature in Club World Cup?

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