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Pub Talk: Dogfight

A busy week in the pub in this edition, looking back at what happened last week, as Ultra voices disgust at Shenhua, and there’s disappointment the men from Nanjing couldn’t keep the pressure up on Evergrande. The relegation dogfight comes into play, as do some other dogs before being eaten. The men from Canto-land are in the spotlight, ahead of the big ACL game next week. Ultra makes yet more tedious food jokes, and tries to goad BCheng into supporting China in Asia. Guoan are covered – the heat is off Jumpin’ Jamie but he’s still dancing around like his ass is on fire. In short, its tight and unpredictable all round. Ouch!

S: Hello there B. Whats new in the world this week?

B: There’s a holiday coming up and there’s a full football schedule this weekend, gotta be happy.

S: Yeah, holidays and football are a good mix, although with tomorrow a working day to make up for the national week holiday, tonight’s match will feel like a midweek game, which sucks.

B: So before we get into tonight’s action, do we want to go in order and look back to last weekend?

S: Yeah lets. I was disgusted with Shenhua’s second-half performance last week. Gutless and shit.

B: Which is unusual, because they’re generally a “second half” team, no?

S: Yeah usually, but not last week. I don’t know how to describe it. Gio Moreno was absolutely rubbish, as were Jiang Kun and Yu Tao. Meanwhile Shenhua’s best domestic midfielder, who has scored more goals than Anelka, sat on the bench for the entire match. Questions have to be asked of Batista.

B: He’s done a decent job in charge of Shenhua, but it still seems they aren’t firing on all cylinders yet.

S: I think there’s been enough time for the team to gel and performances like that in the second 45 are totally inexcusable. The only players to get pass marks would be Drogba, and perhaps surprisingly, Anelka.

B: It’s a disappointing draw, no doubt, but at this point as long as you don’t lose, all is well.

S: I think Shenhua fans are upset they can’t win despite being unbeaten in ten games. And they certainly can’t win away from home – something which greatly upset Mr Drogba this week.

B: Yes, usually its the manager with a bit of the hair dryer action, but this time around it was Drogs?

S: It seems to be. I have to admire the guys’ passion, and I think it shows he isn’t simply here for the money.

B: Yeah, though honestly I never had my doubts about Drogba being here to play, the same can’t be said for his teammate though.

S: Very much so. Although Anelka has been looking more involved and the fans have been chanting his name – something which took a long time to happen, which says something in itself.

B: At the same time, that single point was important for Shenxin, who are fighting to stay alive.

S: Yes, that was also a bone of contention with the Shenhua fans, many of whom very openly accused the team of deliberately playing for a draw at the behest of the Shanghai FA who want to see Shenxin stay up.

B: I’m thinking it’s like we always say, anything is possible in Chinese football, but I can’t see much truth in it.

S: Neither can I. The fans started shouting “jiaqiu” when Shenxin hit the post then bar in quick succession. But that just underlines the lack of rational thought behind the accusation, basically they are saying Shenxin’s foreign players were also in on the shenanigans so they deliberately hit the woodwork twice in a row instead of scoring? Understand the frustration of the fans, but, the accusation is nonsense. Nevertheless it got a lot of play in local media, to the point where the FA and the club came out to deny it point blank. Of course they would do that, but the fact they felt they had to says something.

B: Wait? That angered the Shenhua fans?! I know the play you are talking about, Shenhua got very lucky. It was a long free kick into the box, one of Shenxin’s foreigners headed it off the post, then the ball fell to another Shenxin player at point-blank range, Wang Dalei tried to make himself look big, and the player knocked it off the crossbar.

S: Indeed. The Shenhua fans thought it looked ridiculous so they started chanting “jiaqiu”. But the only ridiculous thing about it was Shenhua’s luck that the ball stayed out, nothing else.

B: Those Shenhua fans are harsh! You’d think they would be happy they were saved from losing. Must be that kinda season I guess…

S: It is harsh, but like myself they were outraged by Shenhua’s incompetence in the second half, so harshness was inevitable. Anyway, Shenhua’s season is effectively over, what’s left of Guoan’s CSL 2012 has far more relevance, what lies ahead for your lot?

B: Well, the win at Guizhou last weekend was a very welcome surprise and, combined with R&F’s shocking defeat, means that they’re in the driver seat for an Asian spot, at least for the time being.

S: Yeah Guoan are in the mix, seems the voices calling for Jumpin’ Jamies’ head have died down?

B: The problem is, like last year, the club just seems to have these long spells of bad play, but Pacheco’s doing a good job overall. But really, Guoan has R&F to thank. Their loss at Henan was a bit of a shocker.

S: Yeah that was a real surprise no-one saw that coming. The upshot is the relegation fight is tighter than a you-know-what.

B: Yeah, the bottom sides keep pushing their way up the table, making things realy interesting down there. Other than the top 5 or so, there isn’t a considerable gap between, say, 6 and 16.

S: Yeah its very competitive, who would dare predict who will go down now?

B: It’s impossible to say with any clarity, but I think its going to come from the four currently at the bottom.

S: I’d say so. Qingdao I think are doomed. I hope Hangzhou stay up, but looks like Shenhua may lose a local rival one way or another in relegation.

B: A different local rival ran into some difficulties up north.

S: Yes, I think most people were disappointed by Sainty’s inability to score in Dongbei on Monday.

B: I don’t know what the reason was, but they just didn’t look like the Jiangsu team that dominated Guizhou previously. They were flat and, honestly, lucky to come away with a point.

S: Yeah. It doesnt bode well for the championship race. Another slip-up and its all over.

B: That’s how it’s looking, though the side at the top of the table will have two more matches to prepare for, albeit after the season, after going through to the CFA Cup final.

S: Yeah but as you say it’s after the final CSL match, for once I think the CSL have got it right by scheduling the cup final for the very last game of the whole year.

B: Yes, I definitely like that decision, it keeps the season going just a tiny bit longer, good for those soccer crazed individuals like you and I. Any thoughts on our two finalists?

S: No surprises. Evergrande speak for themselves, Guizhou have been this years dark horses and in the top 3 for most of the season, I hope for big crowds and a good spectacle in both legs of the final.

B: Yeah, I’m a little surprised Shandong didn’t manage a better showing, but it’s going to make for an exciting final and could be Guizhou’s only chance to get into the ACL.
Guizhou’s ACL hopes have floundered with recent losses to the other clubs fighting for spots, Jiangsu and Beijing. It doesn’t get any easier this weekend with them travelling to Guangzhou to take on R&F in yet another crucial ACL clash.

S: Yeah. The excitement doesn’t stop! Relegation battle and ACL qualification is where its at. If i were a gambling man, which, well, those who goto Shenhua games with me may have sniggered when they read that, but anyway, I sat down and looked at the table and what games are coming up and I just wouldn’t bet any money on anyone finishing anywhere just now.

B: Hahaha, so much for being a gambling man then, eh? I agree, lots of top vs top matches. Both R&F and Guizhou need those points.

S: Haha. Well gambling amongst my crew is giving a much-needed edge to Shenhua games recently. So what about this weekend’s games?

B: Well, R&F-Guizhou is obviously the match of the week, though there’s plenty of other interesting ones. A relegation battle with Hangzhou hosting Shenxin and a surprising ACL battle as Jiangsu hosts Aerbin in Nanjing.

S: Hangzhou Shenxin is massive. Can’t see Aerbin making the ACL but it is surprising they are in the mix for that.

B: Aerbin is definitely on the outside looking in, but they aren’t to be totally written off right now, though I think they’ll lose this one to Sainty and that will all but eliminate them.

S: Yeah, sound prediction there.

B: That’s an easy one, the Hangzhou-Shenxin match is a very different story, though I’m leaning toward Shenxin as they haven’t looked like a bottom of the table side lately.

S: They certainly didn’t against Shenhua, but I think Hangzhou will win that one. What about Shandong, are they safe do you think?

B: If you look at their position, they are still in danger, but their schedule down the stretch has me thinking they’ll stay up.

S: And i heard a rumour they want to sign Mao Jianqing for next season…

B: I don’t think Guoan fans would be too sad to see him go. His biggest contribution came in the opening home match against Shenhua, since then he’s rarely been used and has been extremely inconsistent.

S: Just as I said, he’s not right in the head.

B: Hahaha, okay. So who do Shenhua have this weekend?

S: We are taking on Henan tonight, who are second bottom of the league, therefore, a struggle looks likely.

B: It’s not going to be easy, especially after Henan just beat R&F.

S: Maybe Drogba’s outburst will shake up the rest of the team. I think Shenhua will edge it. Can’t really predict anything else when they are playing such a lowly team.

B: Henan’s looked slightly better during the second half of the season and especially since Shen Xiangfu has taken over, he seems to have the side doing enough to make sure they don’t come away with zero points.

S: The table is a bit topsy-turvy still, some games coming in the middle of the holiday we should probably mention also.

B: Yeah, there are three on the schedule then.

S: Guoan is playing right?

B: Yeah, they are taking on Henan actually, but first they deal with Changchun tomorrow night.

S: Home win I think for Guoan, anything notable about this match?

B: Both matches are going to be tough, especially Changchun, but Guoan needs six points from them. The Henan match is interesting because its Shen Xiangfu’s return to Worker’s Stadium. Guoan has done better against him than they had against former Guoan player Gao Hongbo. Their win in Guiyang was the club’s first ever road victory against a Gao managed club.

S: That’s a fascinating fact. I’d say Guoan have a great shot at 3rd. Is everyone on the terrace keen to get back into the ACL?

B: Obviously not, as third only gets you into the qualifying match.

S: Then the Asian Cup if they lose?

B: Right, which isn’t a result anyone wants to see.

S: Yeah I remember Liaoning pulled out of the ACL last year because they didn’t want to play in the Asian Cup.

B: Well, with Liaoning it was a little more unfair because the CSL was supposed to have 4 spots, but then the decision was made after the season ended changing it to a .5 spot. This year, everyone knows going in that it will require qualifying.

S: Yeah that was moving the goalposts after the game had started – not on and Liaoning’s angst was justified. But I think the ACL needs to broaden its spread, 4 teams from one country is too much considering how many countries have none.

B: Anyways, the ACL has sort of been a curse for Chinese sides, as few teams have done well domestically when they were in the ACL.

S: Yeah it would be interesting to look at the records of other countries’ teams in the ACL.

B: It makes it more surprising because few Chinese sides have gotten very far and yet they still struggled.

S: Well its ACL D-day for Evergrande on Tuesday – more holiday football. What say you on their chances?

B: Obviously, their chances are incredibly low, but if they get an early goal and can keep Ittihad off the board in the first 45 minutes, it will make for an interesting second half.

S: I think you’re being harsh there saying it’s obviously incredibly low. They scored two goals against this team away from home.

B: But the other side scored four, and if they get one, its going to be very tough.

S: Yeah they have to keep a clean sheet. I think they can do it, but there’s no room for error. Will you be rooting for Evergande Mr B?

B: I’ll be rooting for an exciting match.

S: And an Evergrande victory for the motherland?

B: I’ll be rooting for an exciting match.

S: Haha its like that is it? Heh heh ok.

B: I don’t want to be accused of being a Hengda hater. Though I’m sure you’ll be passionately supporting them.

S: I’ll be sitting down in front of the box scoffing dog jerky and monkey brain dofu cheering on the Cantonese champs.

B: Cheers to that!

S: Me too. Cheers and happy holidays everyone!

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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