The last time China held its version of the FA Cup was in 2006, it then disappeared for the next 2 years, supposedly due to the Olympics. The CFA started discussing bringing it back in 2009, but like many things in China, these discussions went slowly, so slowly that it took 2 years to finally restart the competition.
Much like with the Chinese Super League season, less than a month away from the start of the tournament the schedule was finally announced. Unlike the US or UK version, this one isn’t very open and will be limited to just the Chinese Super League and China League sides (creating an even 30 teams). Seeding was based on where sides finished last year, so the 1st round sees mostly head-to-head matches between China League sides, with a few Chinese Super League teams in there too. The 2nd round is when the Chinese Super League really starts to get involved, though the 4 Asian Champions League sides go straight through to the next round, the Quarterfinals.
It’s not only the lack of sides from outside the top two flights that make this year’s competition boring. There is no randomness to the competition, no chance for a tiny China League squad like Beijing Institute of Technology to host a bigtime Chinese Super League side taking a lot of the fun and excitement away. Shandong, as Chinese Super League champions, go straight through to the quarters, but if they win, they’ll also be hosting a semifinal match.
But that’s not all, the strangeness continues. For whatever reason there is a rush to play the first three rounds as midweek games through the month of May. Okay, not such a big deal, but the last 3rd round game will finish on May 26th, but the first Quarterfinal match won’t be played until November 19th, 7 months after the previous round. And yet there’s more…The 19th is almost 3 weeks after the end of the Chinese Super League season, and the final is played another few weeks later at the start of December in an undecided (or at least unannounced) venue. Only in China!
On the bright side, the competition has a sponsor, with Toshiba ponying up an unspecified sum to be title sponsor of this year’s FA Cup. While the strange setup may be frustrating for fans, any time you have a “lose and go home” competition, there’s the potential for excitement. For those wondering, Beijing will host a match on May 11, while Shanghai’s first FA Cup tilt won’t be until November 20th at Hongkou.