Chongqing Lifan (6th) – Shanghai East Asia (1st)
The indisputable game of the round has to be Shanghai’s trip to the Yongchuang Sports Centre in Chongqing where the league leaders will have the chance to test their mettle in one of the most demanding fixtures of this year’s China League One calendar.
To say that Chongqing are a gritty and resilient football team would be an understatement – if a nuclear bomb was dropped on South West China, the only things left alive would be cockroaches and the Lifan players. The recent 2-1 victory over Beijing Baxy was yet another game decided by a single goal, a speciality of Tang Yaodong’s side, and Lifan have improved after a poor start to become one of the toughest teams to break down or out score in the league. Moreover, they are unbeaten at home this season and their Brazilian striker, Augusto has been chipping in with some timely goals of late.
East Asia will be travelling down south having got out of jail against Guangdong Sunray Cave courtesy of Lv Wenjun’s last minute winner. At their best, the Shanghai team are a rampaging presence that make the most of their pace and creativity on the counter attack. However, they have also been wasteful infront of goal in recent games and will have to take their chances against a home team that will not give them too many opportunities in front of goal.
Lifan need to win this game to get them back in the race for a promotion spot while with a seven point lead at the top, it is possible that East Asia will play for a draw now they have some breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack of clubs behind them in the standings. Regardless of their decision, Lifan are a dangerous side that will demand respect from the first whistle. A 0-0 draw would be this writer’s prediction.
Harbin Yiteng (5th) – Wuhan Zull (4th)
Harbin have come into a fine run of form in the last few games and a victory against Zull would help them get closer to the automatic promotion spots. Cunning playmaker, Lu Yongdi has been an influential part of the Harbin midfield and his ability to drive the team forward will be important to the Northerners.
Wuhan on the other hand are struggling to keep up with the pace being set by the teams above them in the standings. A sudden spell of impotence in front of goal has really started to cause the visitors problems and it remains to be seen whether they can rediscover their spark now they are starting to lose their swagger. Their experienced Brazilian striker, Vicente, could be the man to get Zull a victory but it would be a big ask after such a lacklustre spell of games.
Harbin have been formidable at home and teams making the long visit to the city often return home with their tail firmly between their legs. In their last five games (all victories), Yiteng have scored fifteen goals and conceded only three. In such a perilous state, Wuhan should be victim number six as the hosts move up to fourth place.
Tianjin Songjiang (3rd) – Guangdong Sunray Cave (9th)
A critical game for two teams that both need three points so goals should be expected in this encounter.
Tianjin used to be the in-form team in the division and were regularly putting all comers to the sword (they remain the only side to have beaten East Asia this season). However, recent games have been poor and suddenly Songjiang don’t look as confident or dangerous. Losing further ground on the promotion spots would be unthinkable, especially now that Wuhan Zull and Harbin Yiteng are looking to overtake them in the table. Momentum is now becoming key to the sides chasing East Asia and Hunan Xiangtao, and a defeat for Tianjin could be destructive for their confidence and promotion chances.
Meanwhile, for Guangdong, still reeling after their painful defeat to East Asia, another loss might signal the end of this season’s attempt to gain promotion to the Chinese Super League. Jobs could (and probably would) be lost should Guangzhou’s third biggest team fall out of the running with half the season still to play so Tianjin should brace themselves for an onslaught from the beleaguered team from Guangdong province.
For what it’s worth though, Songjiang should win – Sunray Cave have been terrible against teams higher than them in the table and this should be no different.