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Pub Talk: Octophobia

The lads are glad to get back to CSL action this week, but not before discussing the Chinese national team’s latest calamity. Who was to blame? Fingers are pointed in the direction of the CFA. Injured internationals are covered, and Bcheng laments the fine form of a departed Guoan striker. Guangzhou Evergrande are back on the agenda – can they hold it up fighting on three fronts? And can Jiangsu Sainty push them all the way? The bottom end of the table is discussed – and Hangzhou v Shandong picked as game of the round, except for one in Nanjing of course. That is it this week in a more sober pub session than usual – enjoy the clarity!

Shanghai Ultra: Good evening Mr B, how is it going?

Bcheng: It’s a beautiful Friday in Beijing and there there’s football this weekend, I’m a happy camper.

S: Right, I for one am glad to be getting to talking about the CSL, especially after two non-events for Chinese football, namely a couple of international friendlies and that scoreline which shall not be named….

B: True, they were outplayed in Sweden, but kept the score low, the same can’t be said during their Brazilian vacation.

S: I think pretty much everyone at would agree with your piece about it the other day, it was just an ill-conceived trip from start to finish. Bumbling incompetence from the CFA, yet again.

B: In thinking about it further, I think we should be slightly (ONLY slightly) less harsh on the CFA. With much of the world playing World Cup qualifying matches, it wasn’t easy finding an opponent, but they could have scheduled Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or a side like that.

S: True, but there surely must have been someone available who would have been a more fitting opponent than Brazil.

B: I don’t know if the CFA had too much confidence in the side, if this was an issue of corruption, or just downright stupidity. What made it worse was that players were pulling out faster than you can down a pint, leaving Camacho with only 13 outfield players for the match.

S: Yeah the curse of “injured” players pulling out of national squads is a nasty disease which has spread from Europe.

B: What say you about some of the rumblings that this match may have been fixed?

S: To be honest I think this story  should be taken with a pinch of salt. It describes it as a “pregame bet prediction” but it’s not that as such. It’s a predict-the-score reader poll, which gives fans the chance to place a wager on a sponsored link afterwards, since I don’t think is a betting website. I think the Chinese reporter who saw this put 2+2 together and got 6. A prediction of 8 – 0 is not all that outlandish considering the relative strengths of the teams involved, is it?

B: Right. Plus if the fix was in, it would make sense to go against the conventional wisdom to get the best odds. Though news has come out that a close friend of former CFA head (and currently in prison) Nan Yong arranged the match.
We’ve said it before, I’m sure we’ll say it again. All of these rumors, anywhere else in the world, would amount to absolutely nothing, but because we’re talking about China, anything can be believed.

S: Yep, personally I think its rubbish. Also that screen grab from doesn’t show how many people actually voted, just the percentages. I don’t think many people would bother to give their score forecast for such a meaningless friendly.

B: So let’s get on to something with meaning, the CSL has a massive weekend coming up. It kicked off last night, with Aerbin holding Evergrande to a draw.

S: Yes, everyone’s glad to get back to the CSL I think. Interesting result last night, Evergrande maybe keeping their powder dry for the big ACL match coming up soon?

B: Yeah. Obviously some of their national teamers were tired from the travels, so playing this match on a Thursday made things even harder. They have a long trip now to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Aerbin’s been doing pretty well, especially at home, since Keita arrived.

S: They were looking like possible relegation material before he signed up, but that’s changed. I have to say I can understand Evergrande have a tough run at the moment, but that’s the price all successful teams have to pay,

B: Aerbin hasn’t lost at home since the end of April (they did lose to Shide at Jinzhou, but they were the away side). They’d also won three straight going into the match against Evergrande.

S: Right, so it was a tough test. But can Sainty capitalize in the title race?

B: That’s a very good question. All eyes will be on Nanjing for a massive clash tomorrow night.

S: Yeah the next few games are totally crucial, I think Guangzhou’s commitments in the ACL will be a drain on their CSL title push, but again, to play with the big boys you have to have strength and depth in the squad, having two extra foreigners than everyone else help too.

B: Right, they have talent in every position. I don’t think we can underestimate the strength of Aerbin, at least lately, they’ve really turned things around and gave Evergrande a tough match. The next few games for Evergrande are easier, so I think they’ll be okay.

S: So who have Guoan got this weekend, what’s your prognosis?

B: It’s the hated Henan Construction coming to town, and though there are some good feelings about the visit because it marks Shen Xiangfu, a former Guoan player and manager, returning to the capital, I expect Guoan to put in a good performance and cruise to a win, 2-0 or something nice like that.

S: But they had that win over Shandong in the last round, morale is up….

B: It is, but I’d like to th ink travelling to Worker’s Stadium to take on Guoan is considerably harder than hosting Shandong.

S: Yep, few would disagree. You think Guoan are good for an ACL place?

B: It does sort of depend on what happens with Evergrande and the CFA Cup, but they have a good shot at it.

S: So it might come down to finishing fourth?

B: I’ve talked about it before, Guoan has Jiangsu away and then hosts Evergrande for their final two matches, that’s a damn hard schedule and so they can’t leave it late. I think fourth is more realistic.

S: Yeah. Well I’m just glad to get back to having a game to watch, after the needlessly-long 3 week break. Liaoning are the visitors for Shenhua this weekend, looks as if Drogba et al will be playing despite there being no official news on any solution to the share dispute and wage problem.

B: That’s good to hear. There’s some talk up here about our own AK, fans are somewhat frustrated that it took him two matches with Santandar in Spain to match his scoring tally in 17 for Guoan.

S: He’s on loan there, right?

B: Yeah, but I don’t put the odds high that we’ll see him back in the capital. I don’t think Pacheco ever really gave him a fair shot, but some players just don’t work out in China.

S: He’s a good example, he came with a good record, a young, hungry player, he looked like a very good signing at the start of the year. He is a good example though as you say, not everyone can crack it in the CSL as a foreigner.

B: Very true, but your lot’s midseason pickups, Drogba and Moreno certainly have done a fine job of it. Liaoning’s having a disappointing season and have quickly found themselves in the relegation zone, what say you about this weekend’s face-off?

S: You’d have to make Shenhua favourites to win if Drogba and Moreno are on the pitch, seems they will be. If they aren’t for whatever reason, Shenhua will struggle.

B: I gotta say, I’m really down on Liaoning’s performance this year. They finally put some money into the team, they kept their two national teamers, and their now battling to stay alive. I can’t see them holding onto the pair beyond this season.

S: Yes, I know you are a Liaoning aficionado, they were always going to struggle to repeat their excellent season last year, due to the big investments elsewhere in the league.

B: Yeah, but I didn’t expect relegation zone. I’m not optimistic that they’ll be able to put in a performance this weekend either.

S: Yeah, they are one of Chinese footballs more admirable institutions, but they have tasted relegation and bounced back before.

B: Anything more about the Shenhua clash this weekend?

S: No, I think Shenhua have dominated the pub far too much in recent sessions, things are strangely quiet on the share dispute, the club was supposed to make an official announcement on the status of this before tomorrow’s match, but word is that has been postponed, I think things will be sorted out behind closed doors, this is going to be swept under the carpet and everyone will act like nothing happened, as is the way around here. Oh and by the way, don’t miss Steve’s match preview.

B: So then let’s move slightly north to Nanjing where the match of the weekend is going to be played.

S: Yeah, 2nd v 3rd, a mouth-watering clash, and a must-win for Jiangsu if they are to keep up the pressure on leaders Evergrande.

B: And equally important for Guizhou if they want to be in Asia.

S: It is, and should they slip up, they will be right back in the mixer for an ACL place – 7 points separate 7 teams in the race for third, as we speak.

B: So any predictions?

S: I think overall you are looking at the top 3 finishing as it stands just now to be honest, Guangzhou have the strength to maintain their lead, Sainty are too far ahead to fall from 2nd, Guizhou have been very consistent this year, and could be considered the dark horses of the season. But of course, there are some big games still to be played, 3rd place and passageway into Asia is of course the one which could goto anyone of about seven clubs.

B: I think it’s tough to call. Jiangsu has quite possibly the toughest schedule to finish the season. With the exception of a match against Qingdao, all their matches are against contenders for an ACL position. I could see second and third getting very competitive.

S: Could do, I know you are a prediction monster, but I certainly wouldn’t be putting cash on who finishes where, at this point.

B: Right, I think just looking at schedules, we’re going to see the CSL’s first ever repeat champion.

S: It’s looking likely. I would talk about the relegation battle, but I think as we said last time, it’s too tough to call.

B: Most definitely, it’s still way too soon to talk about, though, speaking of the relegation battle, there’s one hell of a tasty match this weekend. I think it almost trumps the 2nd vs 3rd match.

S: Hangzhou – Shandong?

B: That would be the one. Wu Jinggui’s first match in charge of a northern team sees him return to Hangzhou, where he managed last season.

S: Yes, something of a baptism of fire I think, for Wu.

B: I’m very curious how he works with Du Wei, who we’ve talked a lot about lately, he’s been a massive midseason pickup for Shandong, but he was part of the “player’s committee” that took over for Wu in Hangzhou last season.

S: Yeah wasn’t that a strange story. Perhaps Du Wei was forced into it, as a senior player.

B: Right, I don’t know if he really pushed Wu out, perhaps it was more a matter of following management’s orders.

S: Yeah could be. I doubt there is any bad blood between them, since Du was a major signing for Shandong, they wouldn’t bring Wu in if it was going to be a problem I don’t think.

B: In any case, both of those guys returning to Hangzhou for the first time makes for an interesting clash.

S: Yeah, and Wu faced Shandong as a title rival many times whilst he was in the hotseat at Shenhua.

B: It will be one to watch. Another weekend of tv+ipad+phone to follow all the Saturday night mayhem.

S: And Mayhem it will be. There’s a run of three consecutive weekend games in Shanghai for Shenhua fans – Shenxin next week for the Shanghai Derby.

B: It’s been a long break, but we’ll be treated to some excellent matches these next few weeks.

S: Yep. Anything else to discuss this week?

B: I think that’s it, cheers for another great day in the pub!

S: Cheers mate!

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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