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Pub talk: Hangzhou v Tianjin steals centre stage

beers lined upIn our regular Pub talk feature BCheng and the Editor get together for a virtual pint to ramble on about the week’s events in Chinese football. On their agenda this time is the bizarre scheduling of the Chinese FA Cup, the Editor’s planned Saturday night footballing feast, and Taiwanese pop stars ruining pitches, whilst Guoan boss Jamie Pacheco makes  yet another  Pub talk appearance, this time in Hooters Bar…

Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua): So B, time for another virtual pint. How was your trip to Liaoning last weekend?

BCheng (Beijing Guoan): LONG! Lot’s of time spent sitting for a match that ended 0-0 in what was a laughable case of refereeing, and this wasn’t the first time we were struck by this horrible official (*thinking back to 2009/05/01*)….anyways, now I know why you didn’t head to Xian.

S: I think away games really are a group activity, obviously Xian is a bit far away for many of the Shenhua massive to make it. So how was the match itself?

B: Bad officiating ruled the day, which is unfortunate, because it was a clean, hard fought match.

S: Bad officiating in the Chinese Super League? No!

B: Yeah, a real shocker. As you guys well know, Liaoning isn’t an easy place to go, so I’m happy with the point and our unbeaten streak continuing, and last night, even though Yang Zhi’s streak ended, it was a fun night to be at Gongti.

S: For the benefit of our readers not following Beijing’s schedule as closely as ourselves, what was the occasion and can you give us a brief summary of events at Gongti?

B: Well, there will be one up on the page tonight, but we had our CFA Cup match against Nanchang, we started out kind of slow, but put in 6 on the night, for a beautiful 6-1 victory.

S: A seven goal thiller! Good stuff, I wait your full report with interest. How was the attendance?

B: It was good for a weekday night cup match. What made it so great is that you only have the real fans coming out for a match like that, plus the fans in the 15th tier had to be moved because Cai Yilin’s stage was up in the south end, so they and the “Royal Army” were together and all were in good voice

S: Did anyone ponder how better it might be if these two fan groups were always in the same place?

B: Nah, the 15th tier fans aren’t really an organized group, other than the two fan clubs, everyone else gets assigned tickets randomly, so they are people who were assigned to that section and decided to create a group organically. {lus, they’re needed over there as the front soldiers, closest to the away fans.

S: Either way, I’m always glad to hear fan groups growing and doing their thing. They are the saving grace of Chinese football, they bring noise, colour, enthusiasm and exictement which would be completely absent otherwise.

B: Definitely! So what do you and your fan group have to say about Chengdu? Can you match Guoan’s 3-0?

S: I think most Shenhua fans will be expecting a victory against Chengdu, they are newly promoted and as we mentioned before, they flirted with going out of existence during the close season

B: Yeah, hosting Chengdu, I’d expect an easy 3 points for you guys this weekend.

S: Shenhua have a habit of struggling against smaller teams though. As our 3-3 home draw with Qingdao at the start of the season proved.

B: So you don’t think their ticket to the semifinals of the CFA Cup has been guaranteed with Yanbian’s victory yesterday?

S: I think in the history of world footballing competitions, there surely can’t be an easier run to a cup semi-final that the one Shenhua has – bye to the quarters, then a lower division team in the semi.

B: Hosting a lower division team, no less. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

S: Yeah. But for this season, its the first time we’ve had the cup since 2006, so bringing it back in lightly is probably a good idea, next year we will see 3rd tier teams take part, hopefully that may balance things out a bit having more clubs in the cup.

B: Yeah, and hopefully it’s more random than basing it on Chinese Super League results last season

S: Actually, glancing at the draw reveals the possibility of a Guoan-Shenhua final. Does that prospect excite you?

B: Unlike your path to the finals, wherever it’s held, ours is much tougher, I can’t look past an away match at Yiwu (or possibly Hangzhou by then), especially with the form they’ve been in so far and the 3-1 drubbing they dealt us. Then again, a lot can happen between now and November, 6 months is a long wait.

S: It’s very long. I believe that wait falls into our new “Only in the Chinese Super League” category.

B: Most definitely.

S: So anything else interesting happening up there in the capital this week?

B: If you’re into Taiwanese pop tarts, there’s the Cai Yilin concert this weekend, forcing the Guoan match to Monday night and hopefully not destroying the newly laid grass.

S: Yeah. That’s bonkers man. I can’t think why any club would invest money laying a new pitch and then christen it by having thousands of teeny boppers dance all over it.

B: Only in the Chinese Super League, that’s all I can say…Anyways, it forces us to have another weeknight match, but should be fun, especially with how in form we are, hosting Shenzhen should be an easy 3 points. This season, for once, we aren’t struggling against the weaker sides.

S: Shenzhen picked up their first point last weekend though. Even still, Messeiur Troussier must be under a lot of pressure.

B: Yes, can’t see him surviving the season. When he was hired I thought it was a major coup, but I’m happy with our short, excitable Portugese manager. Gotta love a guy who hangs out in Hooters after a match. (there’s proof)

S: Hahah. I believe you just dropped a classic pub talk anecdote. As a matter of fact, I found myself in Hooters in Shanghai a few weeks ago with my 7-a-side team on a night out. I was dissapointed with the service. It sucked to be honest, I think they were scared of us group of 10 strapping lads.

B: It has a racy reputation, but it has been toned down a bit in China, it’s far more respectable than Maggie’s (Beijing people will all know, not sure if the myth/legend has made it down to Shanghai), where I found myself this week, though that’s getting off topic…

S: Yes we are a bit. But, well this is Pub talk I suppose. I don’t know Maggies. But I can imagine what kind of establishment it is. One that neither you or I would be found in on a regular basis I’m sure 😉

B: Certainly not.

S: *Ahem* of course.

B: What other matches might you want to catch this weekend?

S: I was just thinking about that. I think Dalian v Shandong is the most intruging fixture on this weekends card, don’t you agree?

B: I can see why you’d say that, but for me, it’s gotta be Hangzhou v Tianjin.

S: Yeah – in previous seasons, Shandong v Dalian would have been a blockbuster. But with Dalian having been medicore for years, and Shandong starting 2011 so poorly, I’d agree Hangzhou v Tianjin is a worthy contender for match of the week.

B: This season it doesn’t have the same amount of charm, but we’ve kept on the Shandong title hopes deathwatch this season and a loss away would kill those hopes. At the same time, this will be a big test for Hangzhou, and a loss for Tianjin would be a massive setback.

S: I still think its too early to talk about certain teams falling out of contention. Shandong didn’t start that well last season either, and we still have 22 games left before the fat lady sings.

B: True true, early days and all that, which is also why I’m not too fixated on the Nanchang v. Henan match, though it will definitely effect the view at the bottom.

S: Yeah this weekends matches look to be mostly strong v weaker teams. I want to say the table is beginning to take shape, but again, its too early. Guangzhou are going to be up there, that’s the only thing I’m comfortable predicting right now.

B: Except for that one, a battle between the two sides in the relegation positions, and Hangzhou v. Tianjin. Otherwise, it’s a lot of top v. bottom. I don’t see that lasting, honestly, and I think you’re right, some of the sides that are back right now are going to move up.

S: Yeah. On paper nothing whetts the appetite too much – but by Sunday night we may be looking at some surprise results and have plenty to ponder over in next week’s pub talk.

B: That’s the Chinese Super League for you, no matter how things look on paper, when the sides get on the pitch, anything can happen, especially with the state of refereeing

S: Yes indeed. But what I have a desire to discuss right now are my plans for Saturday evening. It’s going to be a night of wall-to-wall football – Shenhua v Chengdu match, then watching the champions league final with the Blue Devils and other lads.

B: Sounds like a great night, and a great excuse for having a few “pops”.

S: I hope so. But I fear some of group may not last the night, such is their thirst for alcoholic beverages. With the champions league final kicking off at 2.45 am China time, that’s a lot of tomfoolery and beering to be done, all told.

B: Yeah, and lots of drink doesn’t exactly help when you’re trying to stay up.

S: It doesn’t. As a matter of fact, last year we watched the champions league at an official Blue Devils party, and myself and quite a few others nodded off during the game.

B: With the talk of drinking, is it time to finish these last pints and head our separate ways?

S: I think it is B. It’s been fun as usual. Let’s gan bei the rest of these virtual pints to another great weekend of football.

B: Yeah, see you next week, cheers!

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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