Past heroes find form in China
© AFP

Seven years since taking a share of the world spotlight for their respective national teams at the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002™, former Polish international Emmanuel Olisadebe and Korea Republic's golden boy Ahn Jung-Hwan are basking in their new and inspirational roles with Chinese Super League sides Henan Jianye and Dalian Shide.

Olisadebe scored eight times in helping to steer Poland to Asia's first FIFA World Cup finals, and he then scored on the biggest stage of all as his team achieved a 3-1 win over USA. The unheralded Anh caused one of the tournament's biggest stirs, netting South Korea's golden goal in their stunning 2-1 defeat of Italy to secure the co-hosts a place in the last eight.

Despite being in their 30's, both players have showed that predatory instincts and an uncanny ability to find the back of the net do not fade away with the passage of time. Olisadebe finished last campaign as third top scorer with 12 goals for Henan and he has continued to impress this season, scoring four times in six games to help his side to the top of the current league table.

At the same time, Ahn rediscovered his form-of-old, completing a brace in only his fourth appearance with Dalian as the eight-time Chinese champions dispatched Hangzhou Lucheng recently.

Henan's ‘baby'
Unlike some European stars that chose to spend the twilight of their career in Asian football, Olisadebe came to the Far East a year ago, then aged 29, aiming to rekindle his goalscoring form. "Before playing with Henan, I had a disappointing spell with Cypriot side APOP Kinyras Peyias. I was yearning for a change of scenery and my wish was granted last year when I moved to China," Olisadebe told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "With Henan I have revived my fortunes, playing not badly and scoring regularly."

Indeed Olisadebe made an immediate impact with Henan by scoring 12 goals in his debut season. "The competition here is hard and demands a great deal of physical effort," he went on. "I am glad I was quick to adapt to the new environment and fit into the team."

With Olisadebe back to his prolific form, Henan, C-league's perennial strugglers, have turned over a new leaf. After finishing tenth to remain in the Chinese top flight last year, they have started the new season brightly claiming four wins from their opening six matches to dominate the 16-strong league standings.

Not surprisingly, Olisadebe's consistent performance has made him a new hero in the eyes of his Chinese fans, who are already affectionately dubbing him ‘Baby'. But the Pole is hungry to constantly improve and has set himself new targets. "Last season I was only two goals away from topping the scoring chart and this year I will do my best to become the league top scorer and steer Henan to the best-ever position."

Ahn's return to form
Ahn Jung-Hwan's Chinese odyssey looks set to be heading down a similar path to that of Olisadebe though it is still early days. Ahn quickly proving his worth with Dalian Shide after moving from Korean side Busan I'Park to the Chinese giants on loan in March.

In their home game against Hangzhou on 18 April, Ahn broke his Chinese duck when he put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot on the half-hour. Ahn then grabbed a second seven minutes from time to seal a 3-1 win, ensuring the 33-year-old was immediately adopted by the home supporters.

The two opening goals saw Ahn hit the headlines across his newly adopted land, where the local media has compared him to former Chinese talisman Hao Haidong. A recent article from the Chongqing Morning Post exclaimed "Ahn sparks the star rush".

Despite this, Anh remains undecided over his future after his three-month contract with Dalian expires. "I am on the path of returning to my peak condition with my Chinese team," he said recently. "I would like to stay at Dalian for a long time but nothing has been decided yet."