Shenzhen Ruby (5th) – Hunan Xiangtao (2nd)
Another week, another must-win game for Shenzhen Ruby. The inaugural winners of the Chinese Super League lost to Yanbian Tigers last week in a surprise 1-0 defeat and in doing so, shot themselves in the foot as they try to get closer to the promotion spots. Shenzhen have the chance to redeem themselves on Saturday night but to do so will require getting a result against one of the teams currently occupying a promotion spot, Hunan Xiangtao.
This game (cliché alert ahoy!) is very much one of those proverbial six-pointer clashes that crop up every season. A win for Shenzhen brings them closer to where they need to be but a loss would be disaster and push them further down the table as well as give Hunan more crucial points in their own promotion chase.
Moreover, the visitors are coming into this game with real momentum. Having defeated the equally high-flying Chongqing Lifan 2-1 at home last week (thanks in part to Wang Linchun’s absolutely sensational equalizer), Hunan are coming into this game with the confidence that they can knock over another contender for promotion. Claudio Cardozo and Emil Martinez remain in good form for Xiangtao whilst Shenzhen- who have lost their last two games- will be feeling the pinch and have struggled against stronger CS1 teams this season.
This game obviously has massive ramifications for both sides and as Chengdu plummet down the table (more on them later), a loss for Shenzhen could mean that neither of last season’s relegated sides could be in the mix for promotion when the halfway point of the season rolls around in two weeks. The hosts have to go for broke but this game feels like a nervy draw between two teams with contrasting styles of play.
Shanghai East Asia (1st)- Guangdong Sunray Cave (8th)
Following the decision to give their first team the night off against Hangzhou Greentown, Shanghai East Asia sacrificed their chances of a lucrative cup run for a chance to cement their status as the runaway leaders at the top of CS1. Fans won’t care if the rested starting XI handles their business on Saturday but anything less than a win and there could be trouble.
The opposition for Saturday evening will be a potential banana skin in the form of the delightfully named Guangdong Sunray Cave. The provinces’s third big team have been experiencing a frustrating season after their 2011 campaign saw them miss out on promotion to the CSL by a single point to neighbours , Guangzhou R&F. With the dangerous veteran Reinaldo upfront (who played in sixty-five games for Paris St. Germain along with Brazilian compatriot, Ronaldinho between 2003-2005), the visitors will have the fire power to unsettle their hosts should they be allowed to get going.
There is also intrigue surrounding the status of East Asia’s own South American striker, Luis Carlos Cabenzas, who is currently on loan from CSL side, Dalian Aerbin. The Columbian is currently with the Shanghai club after they loaned Aerbin Eddie Francois, a Chinese-Tanzanian youth player from the Genbao Academy only for the right-back, also known as ‘Aidi’, to start for East Asia against Hangzhou in the CFA cup game. It seems that Cabenzas will remain with the club as Aerbin already have their full quota of foreign players (that and the CSL might be a reach too far for the striker) and East Asia fans will hoping this will be the case as the forward has been a willing runner and battering ram for his current team.
Regardless, East Asia will need to win the game either to keep ahead of Hunan or build their lead over the latter to eight points depending on results in the Shenzhen game. With this in mind, resting the first team against Greentown will be the right decision so long as three points are collected Guangdong have been wildly erratic all season but can’t be taken lightly. East Asia should win but not without some hard work along the way.
Chongqing FC (9th) – Chengdu Blades (10th)
The last stand for both teams. A loss for either and their season is done. Three years ago, Chris Killen was playing Champions League football for Glasgow Celtic and about to fire New Zealand into the 2010 World Cup. Now he is playing in the Chinese second division for a recently promoted team from China League Two who will be content to ride the season out and settle for mid-table obscurity.
Chengdu on the other hand, who almost escaped relegation from the CSL last year are sinking like a stone down the table. Their Brazilian striker, Ygor, when not falling theatrically has been dangerous when in possession but these are dark days for the team from Sichuan Province, who look set to stay in CS1 for a while to come.