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Pub talk: Shandong v Guangzhou showdown

beers lined upBCheng and the Editor meet once again for their regular virtual beer to discuss whats hot and whats not in the world of Chinese football. On their agenda this week is the big Shandong v Guangzhou game, bizarre US TV deals, Feng Renliang’s awesome performance for Shenhua v Tianjin, northern love-ins, and Beijing’s livewire Portuguese manager Jamie Pacheco.

BCheng (Beijing Guoan): Anything you want to discuss about the previous weekend?

Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua): Yes. I think we saw some interesting results, but obviously, I was very happy with Shenhua’s performance against Tianjin.

B: Yeah, Shenhua’s performance with 2 goals in the first half was very impressive, but nothing matches Guangzhou’s 3 goals in the last 20 minutes to win that match and stay top of the table.

S: Tianjin are a class side I think as their ACL progress shows, being the only Chinese team to make it past the group stage. Plus they were unlucky not to equalize. But Shenhua were the better team, Feng Renliang was on fire, probably for the first time this season, he’s been a bit quiet. But yes, Guangzhou were impressive, what struck you most about that game?

B: How they were able to turn it on all the sudden.  At the half [there were a number of 7:30 pm starts on Sunday], I expected Guoan would have a shot to go top, but 3 goals in 20 minutes?! But they obviously are a very powerful side.

S: I didnt’ see the goals to be honest, but yeah it looked like the kind of result Guangzhou should be getting considering the huge cash injection the club got in the close season. Their opponest last weekend, Henan, are no pushovers either. How about Beijing’s 2-0 over Qingdao? Happy with that?

B: Yes, it was an impressive performance in its own right, scoring twice in the last 15 minutes.

S: You took so long to break down a fairly poor team. Rubbish Guoan!

B: Yeah, and we only scored 2 goals, such a boring team.  Let’s not forget that “rubbish” side went to Hongkou and left with a point after scoring 3 goals, almost as many as Yang Zhi’s given up this whole season.
sorry, the “fairly poor” side.

S: *cough* ah, er, yes. Moving swiftly on…

B: So we didn’t get into this subject last week, but what do you think of a US television station buying TV rights to the Chinese Super League?

S: I read that news with interest. My first thought was, “why would anyone in the US want to watch Chinese football?”

B: Exactly, people in China don’t even watch it.  CCTV doesn’t televise the games.  Though I have no idea who in the US gets this station, so it’s probably a moot point.

S: Don’t get me wrong. I think its good news and I welcome it. And, as I wrote in my Shenhua-Tianjin match report the other day, the Chinese Super League does actually produce some really great games of football, from a technical perspective, at least some of the time. But I’m just being realistic, I can’t imagine their being much of an audience for it. I hope I’m wrong though.

B: I agree totally.  It’s good to see a rare positive story about the league in foreign media, but I can’t imagine much will come of this.

S: Let’s hope we are both wrong. Perhaps the TV company is going for some China-US rivalry angle or something. Because I believe the MLS is making great strides and the Chinese Super League could learn a lot from it.

B: I think there’s plenty both leagues can learn from each other.

S: I would agree with that.

B: Let’s talk about what matters most, the football, 3 days of matches, let’s start with the game’s tonight [Friday].  Shandong hosting Guangzhou’s going to be huge.

S: Yes – that game is easily this weekend’s choice fixture. And how! Shandong really need a win badly or their defence of the Chinese Super League crown is going to be an uphill struggle this year.

B: Very much so.  Like we talked about before, it’s still early days, but if Guangzhou comes away with a win, that’s a 10 point difference for Shandong to make up, not easy.  There’s never been a Chinese Super League team that has repeated as champions, Shandong’s odds don’t look too good right now.

S: You are right. The table is beginning to take shape, Guangzhou as predicted are up there, but so are our sides, Shenhua and Beijing, that’s not exactly what we both predicted barely two months ago at the start of the season.

B: Very true.  I’m amazed at how Guoan’s managed, but the young kids have come on strong, Pacheco’s doing a good job managing, and Walter Martinez is having an unbelievable year.

S: Do you think Beijing will be in with a shout at the end of the season?

B: I still think the side’s defense is weak and an injury or two could sink the team, but it’s happy days so far. If the side stays healthy, we should be up there, but we really lack depth.  Piao Cheng’s injury is already showing that, and June’s going to be a tough month. Speaking of tough, your side’s May hasn’t been easy and isn’t getting any easier, traveling to Xian.

S: You’re right to say it’s not been easy, but I Shenhua are doing very well so far. I said at the start of the season, a lot would depend on the form of Feng Renliang and Duvier Riascos. Feng was the difference between the two sides last week when we played Tianjin, and after a slow start he’s getting back on form. But Riascos seems to think he’s too good to pass to his team mates.

B: Feng is class, I’m a big fan.  I hope he ends up in Europe sooner rather than later, don’t want to play against him.

S: Just check out the video highlights I posted with the match report v Tianjing the other day – he was class. But I think he should spend a couple more season in the Chinese Super League, he’s got a lot to learn, and I think he’d just rot in the reserves if he went abroad now. But he will play for a good top level team in Europe in the future, I belive.

B: Xian’s not too far away, why aren’t you and the misses hopping on a train and heading up there for the match?  I know your love of Expos, you could make a weekend of it and check out the World Horticultural Expo there.

S: I think you’d be hard-challenged to find any Shanghai resident, foreign or local, who had much time for the Expo last year. It was a bit of a waidiren (outsider) fest. But Xian is about 24 hours on the train from Shanghai, so, much as I’d like to go, I’m passing on the trip to see Shenhua v Shannxi

B: Will there be a Shanghai presence to face the Northwestern wolves?

S: I heard some of the Ultras are going, I think there is always at least a few go to each away match, but the contingent will be small. I’ve been to Xian three times – the locals are pretty hard. They are kind of like a dongbei city stuck in the middle of China.

B: Yeah, their football fans are rough, certainly not the most welcoming bunch.  Any predictions regarding the match?  Will Mao Jianqing get more revenge?

S: Mao Jianqing is still highly thought of at Shenhua, but he scored against us last time he played. I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored again. I would say Shaanxi is the most difficult place to go in the league – their fans are hardcore, back in the day, in the early 2000s, there were banned from their stadium for rioting. Plus I heard they always give a special “welcome” to each visiting team.

B: They found a way to “sneak” into the venue last year during practices the day before the match and disrupted Guoan.  They’re a special bunch.

S: Yes – I saw some pics online showing the Guoan players warming up in the Xian stadium, with a load of Shaanxi fans in the background gesticulating wildly towards the Guoan player, and holding a banner with a big green turtle on it. Aparently a Shaanxi club official had “forgotten” to lock the stadium gates and the hardcore fans sneaked in to the ground to abuse the Guoan squad.

B: Are you expecting a slipup or still confident Shenhua will come away with 3 points?

S: I would predict a draw. Not only are Shaanxi’s fans insane, they are also numerous – they get over 30,000 each match I believe, that’s always going to make a difference.

B: I’d agree, you’ve managed a good streak to date, but I don’t see Shenhua leaving Xian with 3 points.  My boys have their own test this weekend.

S: Away to Liaoning – this is a clash between two on-form teams., Your thoughts?

B: It’s a special game for a number of Guoan players who were part of that unbelievable generation of talented players.  Liaoning will also want revenge for getting spanked 3-0 by Guoan last year.  And as you know all so well, Liaoning’s not an easy place to play.

S: Indeed – Shenhua got beaten there 1-0 just a few games ago. I think this game is going to be an early test for you guys. Your jumping jack of a Portuguese coach is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to win this won.
this one

B: Haha, Pacheco is very active on the sideline, but I’d beg to differ.  3 points is going to be hard, but I still see us winning this one.  Liaoning’s going to focus on defense and poach a goal where they can, while their two midfielders are amazing, they don’t have talent in many other places.

S: Ohhh – that’s pretty cocky of you – dongbei teams tend to be strong at home.

B: Not really, maybe it’s just that you wimpy Southerners are scared of a bit of cold, so you struggle when you head north.  We’ll be starting with at least 4 players from Liaoning in our lineup on Sunday.

S: Really? I hope they score a load of own goals for Liaoning!

B: Perhaps I’m counting wrong, but Zhang Yonghai and Xu Liang are part of the young tigers generation, and Zhou Ting’s from Dalian.  There must be another somewhere in the bunch.

S: It looks to be an all-northern affair. Well, I reckon we should think about bringing this week’s pub talk to a close.

B: Yeah, getting late, time to hit the actual pub for a nightcap.

S: I had a few already after work. But I didn’t over-indulge. The first inebriated pub talk is yet to occur!

B: I think it’s best that way, keep things civil, otherwise I may remember you’re a Shanghai fan.

S: Hahahah. Is there a “smash bottle over head” emoticon on MSN?

B: If not, there should be.  Anyways, let’s raise our glasses to a fun weekend of football.

S: Yes, cheers B for another virtual booze-up.

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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