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Pub Talk: And as we continue…

This week the boys look back on last week’s derbies, and a bumper round for fan numbers, with the weather leading some to be naked from the waist. China’s squad for upcoming friendlies is covered, who is in? The magnifying glass is dusted off. With the CSL getting a little closer to the final straight, we look at who the runners are for the respective mini-races, as referees come under the cosh again. Meanwhile, Brazil may be heading back to China – the duo peer through the cobwebs at their likely venue, the white elephant’s nest. Elsewhere, speaking of travel, both drinkers appear to have had a bit too much with an odd feeling that Shenhua are going to the beach. Find out more about that, and everything else, in the pub this very week. Cheers!

Brandon: We’re back in the pub after “derby week” in which we saw huge attendances in many locations across the CSL, having attended one of the derbies, what was the atmosphere like last weekend?

Shanghai Ultra: It was tremendous in Shanghai, despite a typically scrappy derby game, even East Asia fans were able to say something good about the match due to the atmosphere.

B: Great to hear, did Shenhua fans outnumber East Asia fans? I saw the Shenhua presence was massive.

S: I think they did quite comfortably, there were headlines in the papers saying that Shenhua fans made every game in Shanghai a virtual home game for the team. But I think East Asia are due respect, their support is growing and they have numerous very active fan groups who turned out in good numbers.

B: Good to hear, of course it was a great result on the pitch for the blue side.

S: It was, East Asia must have been sick, they were a bit unlucky to come out of the game empty-handed. But Shenhua have proven their ability time and time again to grind out results this year with their toughened mentality. It was a really enjoyable match for any Shenhua fan, most didn’t expect to win. Unfortunately we were stuck up in the 3rd tier as far away from the action as possible, and let me tell you, it was very, very hot up there as there was no breeze of any kind. A lot of guys were bare-chested and I sweated bucketloads.

B: Ah, summer in Shanghai, such is life…At least you came away with three points, Shenhua have put together a bit of a winning streak lately.

S: It goes to show a fortnight is a very long time in the CSL. We were sitting here over a beer two weeks ago and I was fairly downbeat about Shenhua’s chances. But thanks to back-to-back wins, and the good fortune of results elsewhere all going Shenhua’s way, I think a 9-point cushion over the second-bottom team, with 8 games left, should be enough to keep Shenhua up. How do you see it a the bottom down there?

B: Not only are Shenhua safe, but with the win, they are Shanghai’s top dogs in the standings for the first time this year, I believe. With Wuhan winning last weekend and Changchun still struggling, the picture at the bottom remains interesting. I think we can now say its once again a three way battle (and arguably two) between Changchun, Tianjin, and Shenxin.

S: Yeah that’s a pretty solid summary. Tianjin have suddenly lost momentum with consecutive defeats, just when it looked like they were going to pull safe. Perhaps they lost their nerve. Wuhan winning, I don’t think anyone saw that coming. But its far too late for them.

B: Right, Wuhan’s still well alive, but I don’t think anyone sees them going on a winning streak at this point to stay alive, but stranger things have happened. Speaking of, Qingdao was flying high at the beginning of the season, now they’re arguably one of the teams just outside the relegation picture. Yet, Chang Woe-ryong was just given a new contract

S: Qingdao have had a very bizarre season. Although as I said last month, Zheng Long going to Evergrande was bound to hurt them, and I think his departure has contributed to their miserable winless run. Perhaps the owner recognizes that Chang has limited resources to work with.

B: Another team with a bizarre season, and one that has struggled is Dalian Aerbin, despite climbing up the table, Guoan creamed them at Gongti on Sunday in front of a massive crowd.

S: Yes, 4-0 that was a real drubbing, although a controversial penalty, what did you make of that and the game in general?

B: You rarely see two penalties for one club in a match, the second one definitely shoudln’t have been a penalty, but it also probably should have been a red card, so the two kinda cancel each other out. Overall a bad night of refereeing, Aerbin were incredibly chippy and lucky to finish with 11 men on the pitch. This was Guoan at its best, though, and Joffre Guerron offered up his best performance this season.

S: Yeah we have seen some disappointing refereeing this season, its an on-going issue. Aerbin have been even more disappointing, we talked about them a few pub visits ago, but for one reason or another they have never really gotten it together this season. I think we both predicted them to at least challenge Evergrande this season, but, they aren’t even in the running for an ACL place anymore.

B: Yes, and new word is that they are trying to dump Hoarau before the European window closes or get him to agree to a pay cut. Yet another example that good signings on paper don’t always amount to much on the pitch

S: I was just about to mention Hoarau, he’s failed to make much of an impact. He’s quite similar to Barrios, similar age, someone more than good enough to get a contract with a high level European club, but chose to come to China.

B: I think Barrios is a great comparison, a very similar situation, but I don’t think it really means anything.

S: Probably not. It’s difficult to guess players’ motivations, both of those guys appear to have come to China solely for cash and don’t look like they have made any attempt to engage with wider society or the country. Perhaps they’ve gotten bored and this has affected their performances. Some might be saying “but all players come to China for money”, but there is more to it than that in some cases I believe, I mean, you’ve got Darko at Beijing and that guy is speaking decent Chinese now after many years here, that must help a player settle in.

B: Right, well, I haven’t heard much about Hoarau at Aerbin, whether or not he’s having the issues that Barrios had settling in. It is interesting to note that Guerron’s string of good performances with Guoan correspond to him having his brother and cousins in town now.

S: That is probably not a co-incidence. It’s an interesting comparision. Guerron, is he still playing on the right? Or has he been moved into the middle?

B: Stano has moved him around a little this year, either playing as the lone striker or on the left. His recent performances are a real improvement from earlier on. Any thoughts on the interesting roster decisions for China’s upcoming friendlies?

S: No real surprises, the selection reflects the success in the East Asian Cup, although Wang Dalei is back in there, it would have been criminal to leave him out again. Is Gao Lin injured?

B: No, but he’s crap… Okay, okay, that was meant to take the piss, I know…

S: Heh heh. It’s been a while since Gao has been abused in the pub. But what’s the reason for his absence?

B: Jiang Ning is an odd choice, but the reality is, and I think few would argue, that Gao Lin is an absolutely horrible loan striker. When it comes to players on the wing, China has plenty of options, so leaving Gao out is a big surprise, but is the right decision in my mind.

S: Jiang Ning doesn’t excite me much. He’s played quite a few games for China in the past, but this season, he’s scored a mere 5 goals. I’m not sure that’s call-up form. Unless he’s going to be used wide.

B: But if he’s used wide, why don’t you just have Gao Lin in the lineup? I guess Fu is using Gao Hongbo’s technique of giving different guys a shot to impress. He knows what he has in Gao, let’s see what others can provide.

S: True. But I think some continuity is missing in the national side, too much chopping and changing now. They need to build the attack around Wu Lei playing as a false 9. The problem is a lack of a good out-and-out striker. I’d still bring Han Peng back, he can hold up the ball well and knows where the net is. China really need to make sure they qualify for the Asian Cup.

B: I’m not sure if Wu Lei is ready for that. I think they’ve gotten great performances from both Wang Yongpo and Zhang Xizhe in that attacking mid position and Yu Dabao has been good enough as the lone striker so far.

S: I forgot about Yu Dabao, he’s impressed me a lot this year. As for Wu Lei, it is perhaps slightly early to be giving him a lot of responsibility, but, I think he’s good enough, Wang Yongpo I’m a fan of too, either one of those can cut it, but like I say, after these two friendlies, Fu needs to decide what his best XI is and try and get these guys working as a unit on the pitch.

B: On the topic of friendlies, both of us somehow missed China’s upcoming friendly against Brazil. The national team has finally found a friendly “prestigious” enough to play a match in the National Stadium.

S: I think this is a useless exercise from a footballing perspective, I am not sure what the point of it is. China played Brazil not so long ago and were given a proper tonking, perhaps some big-wig in the corridors of power decided he wanted to see Brazil play in China.

B: I wonder if its a situation where most other clubs have more important matches (ie World Cup qualifying) and so Brazil was one of the few teams that was available. It’s great that the national team is coming back to Beijing so quickly, but I’m torn because the Bird’s Nest is the worst stadium I’ve ever watched a football match in and every time I go, I insist it will be the last time.

S: What’s so bad about it?

B: You’ve got a huge track around it and it feels like fans are far away to begin with. There’s never any atmosphere in the stadium, in part because of its size, in part because of the type of “fans” who attend the matches there. There’s zero in the way of amenities. All around a bad experience.

S: I really can’t bear running track stadiums. It’s something I had never experienced as a football fan until I came to China. But yeah I can imagine the Bird’s Nest is full of sight-seers out for a jolly. So, before we move on, we forgot another big game from last weekend, the Guangzhou Derby. Did you catch it?

B: I can’t say I did, but from what I’ve heard, I didn’t miss much.

S: I was frustrated by Yakubu, if he had stayed on his feet and moved onside instead of flailing about trying to get a penalty, R&F’s goal, which was ruled out for off-side, may have stood. Fool!

B: It seems the feedback I’ve heard was there wasn’t much to the match. I think they’re going to have a hard time creating a derby atmosphere down there, I saw pictures of R&F and Evergrande fans sitting together, very surprising.

S: Yeah I saw those too, a little bizarre I have to say. I also saw some pics of R&F’s foreign fans group, the Fulligans, good for them getting out to support the less popular club in town, great stuff.

B: Definitely! Great to see people getting out and enjoything their local club, no matter where they’re from originally, especially when its the club that is “harder” to support.
Evergrande continued with their unbeaten streak over the previous weekend, now they head to Tianjin, I don’t see that streak being threatened, do you?

S: Yeah so this weekend. I can’t see Tianjin taking anything from Evergrande either, being honest I don’t want them to, would be nice for Shenhua to finish up the other -6 points team this season.

B: Do I have it right that Shenhua fans will be having a bit of a beach party this weekend as the club will be heading out to Jinshan for the match against Wuhan?

S: To Jinshan? I haven’t heard anything about this, what’s going on?

B: I could be mistaken, I just thought I saw something mentioning Jinshan on weibo so figured Hongkou had a concert or something going on.

S: Actually its funny you should say that, it really does ring a bell, I thought there was one game to be played away from Hongkou. But seems this is no longer the case. It’s a pity, a beach trip wouldn’t be a bad at this time of year.

B: I could be wrong, anyways, it’s Wuhan this week, should be pretty confident, eh?

S: Yeah, after you mentioned it I really do recall reading something somewhere simply can’t remember where. But anyway according to the club’s official site, all remaining home games will be played at Hongkou. Wuhan will have renewed confidence after their unexpected victory last week, but Shenhua can and should put CSL safety beyond doubt this weekend. Wuhan are atrocious, as we said the other week.

B: Right, well Guoan have an equally bad side to face this week as they travel up north to Changchun. I’m confident it should be three more points in the bag and a firm grip on third for the Men in Green.

S: Changchun are alright on their home patch, but I would expect Guoan to dispatch them, it’s looking more and more like you guys will be nailing the remaining ACL place.

B: Yes, well, the most interesting match for me this weekend is Dalian hosting Guizhou. We could see Guizhou put the final nail in the dagger of Aerbin’s ACL hopes.

S: I think Guoan already did that, but after all the excitement of last week’s derby card and other big games, Aerbin v Guizhou is the best the CSL has to offer this weekend I think. Hard one to call, Guizhou are on a poor run, only one win in 5, Aerbin not in much better shape, especially of course after the ass-whipping they just took at Gongti.

B: Very true there, any other match you have your eye on this week?

S: I think Hangzhou Qingdao is worth some attention, the winner of that match can eliminate themselves from the relegation picture, although I don’t think either side is in serious danger as it is, that said, Qingdao will be desperate to end a rotten run, if they can’t, they will get sucked in to the dogfight.

B: Two teams that have good managers and some young talent but have really struggled this season, should be a good one.

S: I hope so. Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground this week. Anything else to add?

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

S: Until next time, Cheers B!

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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