Shanghai East Asia (1st) – Harbin Yiteng (8th)
League-leading Shanghai East Asia will be looking to stay atop of the China League One (CL1) with a win against Harbin Yiteng in a 7:45pm kick-off at the Shanghai Stadium. The visitors look to be a classic middle level outfit – a few decent wins against less able sides but also a glaring run of defeats to teams that have promotion aspirations. Australian Adam Hughes may well be the only CS1 player to have scored in the Champions League (playing for Drogheda United, no less) but that’s as glamorous as it gets for Harbin.
On the other hand, East Asia will be coming into this game with real momentum having rested their starters and let several of their back-ups make a case for inclusion in the first team after a 6-0 mauling of Fujian Smart Hero on the weekend. Left winger, Samir Arzu could feature after his impressive showing, as might striker Chen Zijie, who’d provide a livelier alternative to the lethargic Colombian Luis Carlos Cabezas.
That said, all eyes will be on the return on playmaker, Wu Lei, whose pace and passing have made him an essential part of East Asia’s promotion chase so far this season. Saturday’s game might also be the setting for some kind of unofficial record as in the last four home games, East Asia have won a penalty in the far end half of the pitch (curiously all of them have been rolled into the right of the goal whilst sending the keeper the wrong way).
A fifth successive penalty would either underline East Asia’s impressive luck or that East Asia’s chairman, Xu Genbao has a Godfather-like hold on any football played in Shanghai.
Tianjin Songjiang (2nd) – Wuhan Zull (4th)
Another intriguing evening kick-off will be second place Tianjin Songjiang squaring off against fourth place Wuhan Zall. Songjiang, who will be playing at home, are currently enjoying the best league form in CS1. Despite an embarrasing CFA loss to minnows Dongguan Nancheng, five league wins on the trot (including a 3-0 home win against East Asia in early May) have put Tianjin in a strong position for promotion with the halfway point of the season on the horizon.
Another key factor has been the range of players getting their names on the score sheet and Liang Chen, Rong Yu and Wang Qiang have all backed up Tianjin’s more high-profile strike force of Anderson and former Portsmouth and Shenhua striker, Aleksander Rodic in recent games.
Wuhan, standing in the way for Tianjin’s quest for their sixth league win in a row, will not be a pushover. With a few close-but-no-cigar runs at promotion in recent years, Zall represent one of the CL1’s gatekeepers and sides looking to get promoted will have to go through the side from Hubei to get there.
Led by another Shenhua old boy, Vicente, the visitors will be looking to climb into the promotion spots with a victory. As both sides have made their living by grinding out narrow, single goal wins in recent weeks, the clash in Tianjin probably won’t be exciting viewing. That said, Songjiang should be nominal favourites.
Fujian Smart Hero (12th) – Shenzhen Ruby (5th)
One final game of interest is Shenzhen Ruby visiting Xiamen to play the recently promoted Fujian Smart Hero. Having obviously shipped six goals to East Asia recently, the ailing team from the port city will need to turn things around fast or else they’ll be returning to the third division pronto.
However, Shenzhen have gone three league games without a win and need to beat Fujian to catch up with the front-runners for promotion. Deep lying French play maker, Benjamin Gavanon will need to kick-start Phillippe Trousier’s absurdly attack-orientated formation soon (on various occasions this season, the Frenchman has sent his team out in a 3-3-2-2 line-up) or else ‘the White Witch Doctor’ might not be around for too much longer in the lower rungs of Chinese professional football.