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China League One: Halfway Point Review

It’s not just Bcheng who gets to run the rule over a patch of Chinese football. Whilst our man in the north can look forward to breaking down the fortunes of the relatively high-flying Guoan squad, I’m handing down judgement to the various teams trying their hardest to get out of (or stay in) the mad, crazy place known as China League One.

At the halfway point of the season, things have been impressively unpredictable. Shanghai East Asia are currently sitting at the top of the standings whilst more illustrious teams like Guangdong Sunray Cave, who pushed Guangzhou R&F so close for the final promotion spot, are languishing in midtable. The league has both a compelling promotion battle and a relegation dogfight, and for just the change in your pocket, spectators can still pay to see a decent standard of football.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the good and the bad of CL1 so far this season.

Top of the Class

Shanghai East Asia

When a team is seven points clear at the top of the league at the halfway point of the season, things are obviously going well but this is especially so for ‘Te Laishi’, who finished last season near the bottom of the CL1 table and have already got more points now than they did in their 2011 CL1 campaign. Playing a counter attacking brand of football that makes the most of its relatively young, confident players, East Asia have put themselves in an excellent position to finally gain promotion to the Chinese Super League after starting their fifth season in CL1.

However, the swagger and zest of youth will take a real battering in the remaining fifteen fixtures, and teams will be aware that East Asia can be rattled if put under pressure or aggressively stopped from playing their brand of football. Moreover, there will be pressure to keep winning if only to keep the current squad together. Jiangsu Sainty have been linked with playmaker Wu Lei, whilst Lv Wenjun, Yun Junling and Ransford Addo could all be of real interest to CSL teams should Shanghai’s other side finish this season outside of the promotions spots.

Hunan Xiangtao

A somewhat easy choice but the team going into the midway point of the season in second place have played some nice football throughout and earn extra novelty points for being the current employer of legendary Manchester United and Royal Antwerp striker, Dong Fangzhou. Former Shanghai Shenhua, Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder, Emil Martinez is one of the league’s outstanding players and his crisp passing and ability to control the game have been well worth the price of admission this season.

Having flirted with a top two finish since their promotion from China League Two in 2009, this could finally be Hunan’s year- an impressive achievement for a club whose stadium holds only 6,000 supporters and who have never been in the Chinese top flight.

Must Do Better

Shenzhen Ruby

The well-travelled Phillippe Troussier is very fond of putting himself in the headlines and telling people how to manage, and more often than not, doesn’t make a lot of sense doing it. One imagines the array of people he’s rubbed the wrong way in the last few years are rather enjoying the Frenchman’s problems in CL1 right now.

Since bringing the inaugural CSL champions into the Chinese second division, Troussier has struggled to achieve any degree of consistency. Strong at home but absolutely terrible when not in Shenzhen, Ruby’s attacking instincts mean that they either blow teams away or get crushed themselves.

Although they are only six points off a promotion spot, Shenzhen have to step their game up pretty soon otherwise they will be staying in CL1 for at least another season and their French manager might be looking for new employers.

Chengdu Blades

Oh dear. After a strong start to the season that saw Chengdu in the promotion slots, suddenly things have not gone so well for the other relegated side from the CSL. A terrible recent run of results that included three losses in a row to East Asia, Tianjin Songjiang and the decidedly woeful Beijing Baxy have plunged the Sichuan team into ninth place in the table.

A shock away win against Jiangsu Sainty in the CFA Cup has helped restore confidence to the side and they bounced back last week to beat Chongqing FC so there is still hope but Chengdu would have hoped to be in better shape at the start of this season.

In the Headmaster’s Office

Hohhot Dongjin

It’s unlikely the general populace of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia are particularly proud of their team right now. They have taken just nine points from a possible forty-five and only won one game all season (a 1-0 away win against Chongqing FC)- and even then, that result was three months into the current season.

Implausibly there is still a strong chance the Hohhot could get out of this mess thanks to the ineptitude of Shenyang Shenbei and Baxy, the two sides above them in the table. It looks increasingly likely that those three teams will have their own fifteen game playoff to see who stays up. Currently, Baxy are outside the drop zone and have a two point advantage over Hohhot but also have a worse goal difference.

With two strikers who were playing CSL football last season, Yovanny Arrechea (Changchun Yatai) and the vastly experienced Luciano Olguín (Tianjin Teda), Hohhot has the strike force to get out of jail but it will be tough ask. Winning at home for this first time this season would be a start though…

A passionate fan of the beautiful game, Andrew Crawford has lived a somewhat nomadic existance for the last few years that has involved stays in various corners of Africa, Asia and Europe. His most treasured footballing experiences are watching Hibernian beat Celtic 3-2 in front of a packed Easter Road during his university days and his time as the content writer for Nairobi City Stars, a Nairobi-based team based in the Kawangare slums who play in the Kenyan Premier League.

A football polygamist, he always keeps an eye on the fortunes of the various teams who’ve stole his heart during his childhood and then subsequent manhood; Cambridge United, Ryman League’s finest, Bury Town, Hibernian and Nairobi City Stars. Though recently arrived in Shanghai, he has already become addicted to the atmosphere at the Honkou and looks forward to watching his new team at every chance he gets.

He is also runs and writes for sharkfinhoops.com, the only English-speaking website about the fortunes of the Shanghai Sharks basketball team. You should check that out as well.

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