With the 2010 Chinese Super League season now neatly at the 2/3 mark, with just about every team having played 20 games, its time to take a quick look at how the season has gone so far, and your correspondent’s predictions about how the championship is going to unfold.
Regular followers of Chinese football know by now that “damage limitation” is the name of the game. In other words, just one or two scandals per season makes for a relatively good year for football in China. During the close season we had the Guangzhou and Chengdu scandals which saw both teams relegated to the second-tier league for match-fixing games they played in a few years back when they were both trying to get promoted to the Chinese Super League. Chinese football observers, including your correspondent, hoped this episode would let the league move on and make a fresh start. Of course, this proved to be somewhat over-optimistic.
The match-fixing situation seems to have quitened down for the time being. But 2010 has been an awkward year compared with previous seasons for a couple of reasons. Firstly its been a World Cup year, which drew the inevitable slew of media articles asking why China wasn’t in South Africa. Most of these were uninformed and covered nothing new, offering little insight into how China might improve its football development system. There are some exceptions though – A Modern Leifeng offers one of the best explanations as to China’s lack of football progress.
The second trend this year has been for more crowd disorder at games, which of course many sections of the media have picked up upon gleefully, as if such shenanigans never happen at football games outside of China. Some of the disorder has been amusing – a middle-aged dongbei woman attempting to perform a kungfu-style attack on a referee in a third-tier league game – but other incidents have been more serious, such as police beating Henan Jianye fans, and a brawl after the Hangzhou v Shanghai Shenhua match on August 14, which left friends of your correspondent requiring hospital treatment. (see pics and video). Bad blood has been brewing between these two local rivals since Hangzhou stuffed up Shenhua’s 2007 title bid on the last day of that season. Expect relations to worsen.
Into the final straight
Looking towards action on the field, Shandong established a 4-point lead last night with a 1-0 victory at home against Beijing Guoan, Li Jingyu (pictured) scoring. Shandong aren’t drawing the crowds they did a couple of years back when they won two titles in three years (2006, 2008) and were lucky to beat Shenhua at Hongkou Stadium in a top of the league clash in early August. However, they have the momentum, having won four of the their last five.
Shenhua have been this year’s surprise package. Everyone, including their own fans, expected a season of transition, after mercurial owner, Tycoon Zhu Jun, cleared out the squad of all its senior national team players – Du Wei, Sun Ji, Sun Xiang, Mao Jianqing, and Gao Lin. However wily old Bosnian Croat coach Miroslav Blažević has made several shrewd signings, notably Columbian striker Duvias Riascos, who leads the Chinese Super League scoring charts with 13 goals at present. Shenhua looked unstoppable earlier in the season, but lost their impetus after the break for the World Cup, losing a couple of bad games at home, to title rivals Shandong and newly promoted Nanchang. However, they’ve since gotten their challenge back on the rails.
In third place is Beijing Guoan, who after defeat last night are 10 points off the lead with 10 points left. Probably a bit too much of a tall order for last season’s champions to claw back that deficit. However they should be assured of a top four finish, netting them an Asian Champions League place. The race to join them for the remaining two champions league spot is wide open, newly returned to the Chinese Super League Liaoning, last year relegation escapees Hangzhou, and Shaanxi are just some of the eight teams within 6 points of 4th place.
At the other end its tight, but the identity of none of the teams down there is a surprise – Qingdao, Chongqing, Nanchang and Changsha are in the bottom four places. What is surprising is that Changchun, surprise 2007 champions, is just a point ahead of the bottom four. Two will go down.
Your correspondent, biased as ever, predicts Shenhua to overtake Shandong and win the league, with Beijing finishing third, and the 4th spot too tight to call. Going down will be Qingdao and Nanchang.
In the second tier China League, expect Guangzhou and Chengdu, both relegated last year as punishment for match-fixing, to come straight back up.