Sand gets everywhere and indeed it’s made it into the pub this week – Guangzhou Evergrande are just back from an ACL defeat in Saudi and Shenhua head down to Jinshan district for a seaside Shanghai derby. These two games are mulled over by your drinkers this week, who also take a look back over at the week that wasn’t, ie. last week, as certain silly goings-on somewhere in the middle of the sea took effect. Your astute analysts down their drinks to tell everyone what that means for football. The international break, or rather the CSL’s allowances for it, are called into question again, as the championship becomes a definite two-horse race. Shandong are unhappy about scheduling, and Ultra jokes about Shenhua and Guoan. Elsewhere, Bcheng has time to offer some travel tips, and Africans at R&F are on the agenda. What a diverse and international collection of topics we have for you this week! So put down that Esperanto phrasebook and read this week’s pub offerings…...
Shanghai Ultra: Hello there Mr B. Glad to be back in the pub?
Bcheng: It’s always good to be in my local. Especially talking to you, that means the work week’s almost done.
S: I’m glad my presence signals happy times up there in Beijing.
B: Definitely, so what do you want to start with?
S: Well, I think there’s something I’m a bit reluctant to talk about, but we can’t avoid it since it has affected the CSL directly. Can you guess what this subject is?
B: The idiocy over a pile of rocks?
S: Aye. You know, at we have a policy of trying to avoid politics, for obvious reasons. But this is one of those exceptional times when it’s too hard to ignore.
B: Yeah, it led to multiple cancellations last week, which is too bad. As a Guoan fan, I was especially frustrated because I was really looking forward to going to Gongti.
S: Yeah I know how you felt, because for a short while I felt the same thing after hearing a rumour saying all the games had been cancelled. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and at Hongkou, there was zero mention of anything to do with any rocks in the sea.
B: I think what added to my frustration was that in July, when Beijing was struck by massive rains and even the afternoon China League match was cancelled, when you had tens of people dying around the city from flooding, Guoan decided to still play their match. That directly involved fan safety, but it wasn’t cancelled, instead, this match was cancelled due to it being a “sensitive time”. It shows how meaningless the fans are.
S: If the fans had been number one since day one, the CSL would be a top league by now.
B: What makes it worse is that these matches are being rescheduled to take place during the National Day holiday, when many people will be gone. That just adds insult to injury.
S: Yes that is a strange decision. I can’t recall games taking place in the middle of the national holiday before. One thing I would say though, no matter what anyone’s views on any political issues are, the fact that a game can be called off because of a football manager’s nationality is absolutely bananas. I think all right-minded people would surely agree.
B: Yes, you’re referring to the match in Hangzhou being cancelled because Okada, the Hangzhou manager, is Japanese. Fortunately, it seems China is now “past it.”
S: Yeah. The Far East becomes the Middle East.
B: So let’s get back to football, eh?
S: Indeed let’s get back. Another disappointment during the week – Evergrande going down to Al-Ittihad 4-2. I watched most of that game and I think GZ were a bit unlucky to be honest.
B: I don’t know about unlucky, but I think they looked better than the scoreline suggests.
S: They were up 2-1 at half time, they got a soft penalty awarded against them and then everything was downhill from there.
B: Soft penalty? I don’t know about that…It was pretty bad defending on that one.
S: Yeah, well anyway they got beat against a team which I don’t think looked any better than any other top CSL team.
B: I don’t know. With Muriqui going down, and giving up that penalty (which was 100% a penalty), Evergrande fell apart in the second half. There’s a reason why this Saudi club is where they are and heading to the semifinals. I think we can all but write off Evergrande’s chances.
S: I don’t think so, a 2-0 win at home is well within Evergrande’s capability if everyone plays to form, even if Muriqui isn’t fit.
Besides, GZ already proved they can score two goals against this team away from home, so….
B: I do think those two away goals are crucial, and they’ll get some help with suspended players being eligible for the home tilt, but I can’t see Evergrande keeping the Saudis off the board.
S: Maybe you can’t but you are wrong to write them off. I don’t know a lot about the Saudis but from what I see, they are beatable for sure. Write GZ off, I mean
B: It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle for Evergrande, I wouldn’t bet’em.
S: It is going to be tough no doubt. At any rate, I think the quarter final’s can be considered a respectable finish in their first-ever campaign, compared with CSL clubs’ rather dismal previous record.
B: It’s not a bad run, but I think it may leave their owner a bit wanting.
S: Yeah. He will consider it a failure I think, but he would be wrong to, two years ago Evergrande were in the China League One, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Playing in Asia is a higher standard and needs a squad with considerable strength and depth.
B: The squad, including more seven foreigners, definitely has that. There isn’t a CSL side that comes close to matching Evergrande in depth.
S: Come what may, Evergrande are still in it though and it’s still going to drain their championship tilt for a little bit longer at least.
B: Are we ready to move to last week’s league matches?
S: Yeah, the table is a bit topsy-turvy now, thanks to the utter stupidity and certain games being called off.
B: One thing is clear, we have ourselves a title race, and it will only be a two-way one, as Jiangsu came up with a big win at home against Guizhou last weekend.
S: Yeah massive result. It’s going to be an exciting run-in I think.
B: Definitely, and it’s going to give us something to talk about over these next 6-7 matches.
S: Speaking of the next 6-7 games, controversy is brewing in Shandong – the club are livid that they will have to play 5 games in 15 days, thanks to the scheduling of their cancelled game from last week.
B: Yes, its going to be a tough run for them, this may really damage their potential to stay up. Fortunately, they get to stay at home for this weekend’s match and then midweek in the CFA Cup.
S: Yet another argument for not having such ridiculously long international breaks.
B: That’s on FIFA as much as anybody else, not much that can be done there. Next season will begin in early March, which is good, because we can expect multiple long breaks in the summer, especially due to the World Cup.
S: Yeah but we just saw the CSL take a 3-week break for two international games which were played just a few days apart. That’s on the CSL.
B: So as you mentioned, Shenhua did play last weekend and certainly put in a performance that surprised me.
S: Yeah it shouldn’t really be a surprise looking at Liaoning’s league position and Shenhua’s line-up, but thanks to Shenhua’s ineptitude this year, it was a victory more comfortable than anyone expected.
B: Going into the match the two sides were almost in the same position. I think Liaoning was certainly hurt by the lack of Yu Hanchao’s creativity. It was close going into the final 10 minutes, with Shenhua scoring two late goals, but Shenhua always looked the better side.
S: They did, but I don’t think Shenhua played particularly well, workman-like performance and all that. I was very happy to see two of Shenhua’s youngsters get their first goals for the club – both of them very nice efforts indeed. With all the focus on Drogba and Anelka, it was great to see that it is a team effort.
B: In a surprisingly interesting match, Shenxin continued putting up a fight, but were outlasted by R&F. Once again we gotta talk about Yakubu, seven league goals already. Does he have more goals than Drogba and Anelka combined?
S: Almost, Drogba has 5 and Anelka 3. Yakubu is leading the way, a large African contingent at R&F games these days too.
B: Yeah, after the Yakubu goal, they showed a crowd shot and you could see a very happy group of Nigerians in the front row of R&F fans.
S: It’s good to see. Football brings people together!
B: Shenxin was unlucky to lose that on a final minute corner kick. Certainly going to make things interesting going into this weekend’s Shanghai derby.
S: Yeah anything can happen in a derby. I reckon Shenhua will win it though.
B: I don’t know, I think it’s going to be close, a draw is pretty likely. Is it going to be a “home” crowd for Shenhua?
S: I’ve heard on-line tickets are scarce, but, who knows, there might be some ridiculous restriction on how much of the stadium can be used, or something even more stupid.
B: Would be surprised if that was the case.
S: Hongkou is limited to 26k apparently. That’s almost 10,000 seats not put on sale. Arrg.
B: Isn’t the match at Jinshan?!
S: It is, but the Shanghai police put that limit on Hongkou, so who knows what they might do at Jinshan.
B: Will you be heading outside the city for that one?
S: I will indeed. A day down at the beach – what more could one ask for?
B: Sounds like fun. I’m kinda sad I won’t be making the trip to Guiyang this year, a chance to experience a new CSL ground.
S: Yeah Shenhua have yet to play there, I’m thinking about going there also.
B: It’s a great city and, travel tip here, it’s really an unshined pearl, kinda ignored for nearby Yunnan, but offering almost as much in the ways of natural beauty, even more so because it’s somewhat off the tourist path.
S: Is that so? is indeed the fountain of all knowledge. Too bad I didn’t make it over there last year when I was exiled in Yunnan.
B: Anyways, so this is an equally important match, Guizhou lost ground last weekend, getting leapfrogged by R&F for third. Both sides need to win this one.
S: Yeah, ACL fight heating up.
B: I’m not putting Guoan’s chances very high, though they’ll be after revenge after Guizhou knocked them out of the CFA Cup at Worker’s Stadium last month.
S: It’s all to play for at this time of the season, although if Guoan don’t buck up their ideas, they might slip behind Shenhua. And that would amuse me greatly.
B: You’re very funny!
S: Ha ha ha ha! Only five points behind…..
B: That’s a lot, especially with Guoan sitting on one less match.
S: Well, I’m kinda bored about talking about the table, so I thought some shit-talking might be more interesting.
B: Alright, anything else excite you about this weekend? To be honest, it’s kinda dull, I think our two sides are involved in the most interesting of the matches.
S: Yeah agree. And, frankly, this edition of the Shanghai Derby is a pale imitation of the one of years gone by. But from a fan’s point of view its nice to have an extra game, even if it’s in the outer suburbs and not quite on your doorstep. It’s a vital game for Shenxin if they want to avoid relegation.
B: I wouldn’t be so hard on it, a derby rivalry has to start from somewhere, and Shenxin has been playing very well lately.
S: Yeah I would agree with that. And at least Shenxin has roots in the city. Also it seems they are attracting decent crowds. Although frankly there’s not much else to do down there except try and find a spot clear of cigarette butts and rubbish on the fake beach.
B: Getting in those jabs, eh…Of the two title contenders, Evergrande hosts Dalian Shide, looks like it should be an easy three points for them after a long trip to Saudi Arabia. Jiangsu has to go to the northeast to face off against Changchun, a solid side, but the way Jiangsu is playing, I’d place my money on the visitors.
S: Yeah I would also. I am starting to think Jiangsu might just be able to pull this off.
B: As we talked about last week, Jiangsu’s biggest issue is their schedule is far tougher than Evergrande down the stretch. It could come down to their head-to-head match in Nanjing on the third to last day of the season.
S: Yeah that’s going to be humongous. But Sainty are out of the CFA cup and don’t have the ACL to deal with either…
B: Right, but Evergrande have the depth to deal with it. Plus, I’d have to look at the CFA Cup schedule, but I think after the midweek match next week in Shenyang, if they advance they won’t have to play again until after the league season has ended. Maybe I’m wrong and they’d have one more match in October.
S: As things stand, that’s right. But you never now where the CSL might weave its wonderful magic with random fixture adjustments.
B: I honestly can’t see the schedule changing again at this point.
S: Let’s hope not. So, what else is happening that we should mention?
B: I think that’s about it for the moment.
S: Yeah, alright. Well lets hope for a normal round of CSL fixtures this weekend.
B: I don’t think there’s any concern that the games won’t be played as scheduled, but “normal” in China is relative.
S: It should be ok. But yes, normal is, well, this is China we are talking about. Normality is probably a fairly meaningless term. But I’m trying to working out how to get down to Jinshan, the supporters bus is full.
B: Not good. Local buses must be a pain
S: I can confirm they are – I’ve been down there a couple of times. A more long and tedious journey you could not imagine
B: I think on that note, it’s time for us to touch glasses and depart the pub for another week.
S: Yes – cheers to that mate.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015