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Afternoon rumble in the Pudong jungle

Japanese champions Urawa Red Diamonds roll into town today to take on Shanghai Shenhua in an Asian Champions League clash which looks set to be dampened somewhat by a bizarre kick-off time.

Normally, when referring to the timing of midweek games on the day of the match itself, the phrase “this evening” is used, but not so on this occasion.

The basic idea with such games is that it’s best to stage them in the evening if you want paying customers to come along, because most people have the small matter of employment obligations keeping them busy until at least 5-6 pm. However, this simple fact seems to have eluded both the AFC and the Chinese football authorities who have decided that the game shall kick off at 4pm.

Blue Devil fan’s club spokesman Frank Ding said. “I think the decision is stupid – they didn’t consult the fans. But, that’s China, right?”

He added, “I heard on the news that 4,000 Japanese fans are coming. But that’s surely wrong, it will be more like 400, I think.”

One can only assume that this odd scheduling policy has something to do with the fact that the protagonists in this afternoon’s clash are from China and Japan – an international rivalry which is, in football terms, up there with Scotland v England, Holland v Germany, and Argentina v Brazil. Presumably the authorities are worried that the international tension, which last surfaced between China and Japan at the 2004 Asian Cup final riots, could manifest itself on a domestic level between club sides from each country.

Seems though that even the most ardent Nippon-haters will be hard pressed to knock-off work early to go along and boo Urawa Reds, as any self-respecting laoban wont tolerate such slacking, especially with the May Day holidays just around the corner. The decision seems all the more unnecessary in that it is not the first time Shenhua has played Japanese opposition – Jubilo Iwata were their opponents in the 2004 Asian Champions League, in a match which passed without notable incident.

This afternoon’s game is a must win for Shenhua however – and not just for reasons of national pride. Anything less than a victory will see the Shanghai side bow out early with two group stage games still to play, against Sydney FC in Australia, and Indonesian outfit Persik Kediri in Shanghai. Shenhua gaffer Osvaldo Gimenez recently went on record to say how surprised he was by the standard of play in the AFC Champions League, whilst Urawa Reds manager Holger Osieck says his team are ready to knock Shenhua out of the competition, following their victory over the Shanghai club in Japan two weeks ago (see you tube clip).

Shenhua come into the game after losing to old rivals Dalian on Sunday. The dongbei side recovered from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1, beating Shenhua for the first time in three years.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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