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Pub Talk: Cups, mugs and drinkers

It’s time for Pub Talk again, and B is back. This week, cups are on the agenda, as your fine pair look forward to getting to grips with what is inside later. But for now they can’t help but ogle two big things bouncing into view. It seems one is a bit bigger than the other though, the ACL awkwardly out sizing the CFA cup. There’s plenty to talk about for both. Your brave drinkers do manage to redirect their gaze elsewhere, to the CSL and some more derby fixtures, some disappointment at the hands of Guangzhou teams, and, some interesting only-in-China stuff which we love the place for. That’s what’s going down in the pub this week folks.

Shanghai Ultra: B it’s great to see you back in the pub. Did you immerse yourself in football whilst you were away?

Bcheng: It was fun making it to Yuexiushan finally. I have a lot of empathy for the blue side of Guangzhou, they have to suffer through a lot.

S: It’s a great stadium isn’t it? One of the few CSL stadiums worth a shit.

B: Yes, definitely. Would be fun if R&F can get it filled, would be a pretty intimidating home venue.

S: Yeah, I visited it many moons ago and was very impressed with the terrace build into the hillside. It’s a pity R&F don’t get the biggest crowds around. But, we’ve covered this kind of topic many times before, but there’s no other way, R&F have to put some proper roots which would involve not moving home city again.

B: They’re building something down there and no reason why it won’t continue for years to come.

S: I think so, and I hope they do stay for years to come. You talked to some fans, they seemed to be certain this is the path the club is taking, right?

B: Yeah, they are confident R&F is in it for the long haul, and their recent decision to open an academy in a few months is good to see.

S: Yes that was interesting news, again, we can’t say much until its been running successfully for a few years, but kudos for putting such a thing in place to begin with.

B: It all comes down to how deep R&F’s commitment is, any bets on which Guangzhou club changes first?

S: I think gambling a large amount of money on either side changing first would be foolhardy and reckless. One team changed city twice in a season, the other run in an unsustainable manner by a real estate company. It’s a tough call!

B: Fair enough…So do you want to discuss last week’s results or get right into the meat of the ACL?

S: Let’s strike while the iron is hot, the ACL. I watched most of Evergrande’s game last night against Central Coast, I thought it was a deserved victory against an inferior side, I can’t see the Aussies having much chance in Guangzhou. Do you agree?

B: Yeah, the scoreline flattered Central Coast, who shocked Evergrande early. It could have easily been 4-1. I think the tie’s all but over, as well it should be. The Aussies aren’t even in the same ballpark when it comes to spending.

S: They aren’t I saw an interview on TV which had their gaffer Graeme Arnold calling for a siege mentality because their budget was just 10% of Evergrande’s. They weren’t pushovers though, and the scoreline isn’t beyond redemption, Evergrande certainly can’t afford to be complacent in the second leg. And let’s not forget, Aussie teams have been in ACL finals not that long ago, certainly I think the Aussie sides in general have a more respectable records in Asia compared to CSL teams, so, Guangzhou have to be professional and finish the job off properly.

B: Right, it’s still close, but those two away goals are going to be hard to overcome.

S: Yep I think that will very much be the case. So turning to the other team involved, can your lot get a result in Seoul?

B: I don’t see why not. Guoan already went head-to-head with the best club in Korea, and on Tuesday they performed equally well against Seoul. A goal would have been big, especially because they played around 20 minutes 11 v 10, but I think there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances.

S: Yeah I think it’s all to play for, certainly for CSL followers the Guoan match will be the one to watch I think. What’s your prediction? How many Chinese teams will we see in the next round?

B: I guess I’ll go with my heart and say two. Guoan’s tie is really up for grabs at this point. Tuesday night showed a lot that is wrong with the Beijingers, but I think they’ll pull through. What say you?

S: I think the trend over the last 18 months is of increased confidence in Asia on the part of Chinese clubs, and I go along with your prediction. Beijing will need to play a very good game though, even although they broke their Korean duck already this year.

B: Yes, where the goals are going to come from is anybody’s guess right now. Guoan needs the summer transfer window to open asap.

S: Whats happening, or not happening, upfront for you guys at the moment?

B: It’s been a trend all season. Freddie Kanoute has turned into a set up man, he’s regularly the target of long balls, which leaves them without an actual striker. Guerron’s not the man and I’d almost like to see him switched out (if Guoan advance) for Andre Lima, who seems talented, despite not getting a lot of chances.

S: Tactical issues. Is Kanoute doing any better these days?

B: He’s much better this season, he’s been an absolute force, but he’s not playing as a striker.

S: Ok, so what about last week’s results? What did you note from the round?

B: There’s a lot to talk about, but what hit home for me on a personal level was Guoan’s loss at R&F. Another match down to the rotation policy, which just shows how lacking in-depth Guoan is.

S: Yeah I was surprised by that result, given R&F have had a very indifferent season so far. Was it a fair result?

B: It was R&F’s first home victory in 2013. Fair? Yeah, I think so. Guoan failed to challenge the keeper for the first hour of the match, a few second half changes led to more pressure and Guoan came close to coming back, but could only manage a single goal.

S: A disappointing outcome for those like yourself who had traveled the length of China to take in the match.

B: Very true..the other match Friday night brought some surprise, it seemed as if Shenhua had a chance to do something with it at 0-0 going into the half. What happened?

S: Well, the result was fairly predictable, although annoyingly for me I had bet on a 2-0 victory for Evergrande so lost out on a tidy sum of 360rmb. But the actual game itself was surprising, Shenhua were on fire in the first half. But we didn’t take our chances, and, punishment came in due course.

B: Yes. I know we talked about it before, but Evergrande’s tendency to start out slowly is likely to come back to bite them in the ass sooner or later.

S: Yeah, it’s a habit they have and habits area easily taken advantage of. Elsewhere, Shandong won the Shandong derby, at least they are staying in there with Evergrande.

B: Yes, I was happy to see that as well. I hope Shandong can keep it up for a while. On the flip side, I’m wondering if this is going to be the start of a downward spiral for Qingdao.

S: Yeah from what I saw of their performance against Shenhua a few weeks ago, I’d say they are definitely in a false position. They are certainly not serious ACL contenders I would say that much.

B: I would tend to agree, though luckily for them, this week Shanghai Shenxin comes to town, so they should manage to get back on track.

S: Shenxin are an odd team, they gave Shandong a good game the other week, they seem to be a Jekyl and Hyde outfit.

B: And they beat Aerbin on the road last week. They certainly aren’t a pushover, it will be a good clash between the two sides.

S: Indeed. What about this weekend then?

B: Well, we have Beijing-Tianjin, Shanghai-Jiangsu and then the two 埃神‘s, Edu & Elkeson facing off.

S: Yeah something of a derby weekend, again. Are they away fans allowed at Gongti this time?

B: The “three-year ban” is up, but in the spirits of a “harmonious” society, I don’t think they’ll be any Tianjin fans in team colors.

S: I’m not surprised. What a troublesome lot they are.

B: There are expected to be over 1,000 Henan fans at their sides match against Beijing Baxy on Saturday. That stadium is heinously under-policed, I have a feeling some Guoan fans may show up to “settle accounts.”

S: SUAN ZHANG! I think something is due…

B: What will the Shenhua presence in Nanjing be like?

S: I hope all the manhole covers in Beijing are securely fastened. As for Shenhua, I’ll be making the trip their with some other Lanmo-SEC, but I hear the numbers are not going to be as high was in Wuhan.

B: That’s going to be an excellent match.

S: Yeah, how many Guoan fans turn out at Baxy?

B: Way too many.But if you ask me, 1 is too many…

S: Yes I don’t understand this at all

B: Baxy gets 4,000 people on a great day, typically 2-3k, mostly are “Beijing” fans and are equally supportive of Baxy and Guoan.

S: Hmmm. This has happened in Shanghai also, some Shenhua fans filled a terrace for East Asia’s championship winning game. I mean, good relations with other clubs fan’s is nice, but actively supporting two different teams in the same city, I can’t quite get my head around that.

B: I can’t either, but it’s not uncommon in China. On my way up to Yuexiushan, 80% of the merchandise on sale was Guangzhou Evergrande, despite it being a R&F home match.

S: That is rather bizarre. Then again, when we drank with Evergrande’s ultras after the match, they were chanting “Fuli’s going down”. So there’s hope!

B: The problems aren’t with the supporters sections, it’s with the casual fans who make up the vast majority of fans in most cities.

S: That’s right. Casual is the word isn’t it? Still we can’t be complacent, I think most of us were a casual fan at one point.

B: I don’t know, there isn’t hope for many of these fans.

S: I think we should just be grateful they are willing to turn up, we’ve seen crowds in China at games increase steadily over the past few years, casual fans are better than none I have to say.

B: Personally, I’m not sure I’d agree, but it’s the reality of modern football. Casual fans and tourists make up most of the crowds elsewhere in the world as well. It’s just that in China they’re even more “casual” in their support.

S: Yeah I do sympathise with what you are saying. And it’s true that elsewhere, particularly the Premier$hip, there’s a lot of people in the stadium who just appear to be there on a jolly and not really into it. But we can’t be too judgemental about fans who aren’t in the ultra or fan group areas, there are many different ways to support a club and you don’t have to be amongst the singers and chanters to be a proper fan. I know at Hongkou the atmosphere is always good, but its even better when the stadium is full.

B: Fair enough, a full stadium is definitely better to look at than a lot of empty seats.

S: I think most of us would agree about that. Well, there’s also some cup games to look forward to next week which will have taken place before we next visit the pub. Shenhua are taking on mightly Dali Ruili of the 3rd tier. The romance of the cup!

B: Yes, great that we’ll finally see some CSL sides getting in on the action.

S: Yeah, it’s a pity the draw is all worked out in advance. And that CSL teams are awarded home ties against lower league sides.

B: True, it sort of takes away some of the beauty of it.

S: Very much so. And a rather odd rule I discovered also adds to the bizarre entity that is the CFA cup. Namely, when playing 3rd tier teams with no foreign players, higher league teams may not field their foreigners. So Shenhua will be playing Dali with an all-Chinese lineup.

B: It certainly will make for a greater chance of an upset, but I see Shenhua cruising through.I think the more interesting of the clashes is Changchun against Henan, who look set for promotion. As well as struggling Wuhan facing off against Guangzhou Sunray Cave.

S: Yeah there are some potential upsets on the cards. The top of China League v bottom of CSL in particular.

B: It should be fun, the Cup does usually provide a few good stories each year.

S: Yeah it does, it’s a welcome distraction, and I have a feeling that its going to be more competitive than the CSL this year.

B: So is this week’s pub in the books?

S: Yeah time to down these bad boys and head off?

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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