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Pub Talk: Derby weekend awaits

It’s an exciting weekend on the agenda in the Pub today. There’s big city derbies as serious rivalry starts to emerge in Shanghai and Sven and Lippi lock horns in Guangzhou. The ACL is hot, as B’s favourite team look to progress, but a tangent is gone off on, as Qatar, or rather non-Qataris are subject to scrutiny. Why are all these great players turning their back on their own country to move to the oil-rich state?  ponders that. Elsewhere there’s a look ahead to some exciting relegation battles this weekend, and some clashes which will affect qualification for next year’s ACL. Speaking of which, China’s allocation may be changed again. All that, and more, this week, in the pub.

S: Nice beer you’ve got there B. Cheers, hows it going today?

B: Not bad, another weekend almost here, life’s good.

S: It’s coming indeed. But shall we look at the mid-week ACL game involving our friends from Canton?

B: If we must.

S: Come on man, don’t be like that. 🙂

B: Talking about them gets me down as easily as Conca goes down…

S: I can understand. It was a dodgy penalty last night, but let’s face it, they had more than enough chances to wrap it up long before, they should have scored more.

B: The key is that they didn’t score. The penalty goal from Conca’s dive inspired them to really go on the attack and they got another, putting themselves in an excellent position to go through to the semis.

S: Hahha, B, you’re such a rotter!

B: It’s easy to hate when it was a clear dive, there was very little, if any, contact on that play.

S: Shenhua have conceded 5 penalties this season so I can relate. However, I think Evergrande were good value for their victory, diving or not, that’s how it looks to me today.

B: They were the better team on the night and sit pretty as they head to Qatar.

S: Ok, I’m glad we can come to a sensible conclusion about the match. One thing I think does deserve deeper examination is the country status of their players. Only two of their starting XI last night were born in Qatar.

B: You know, I don’t want to give more fuel to the fire. Granted, its somewhat disgraceful, but it’s not like they are breaking any rules.

S: Well, I am not in possession of all the facts, and I only really have Wikipedia to go on. But according to what I can see, they still had more than 4 non-Asians on the pitch.

B: Right, we took a look at their squad last week and there are a number of players who have dual citizenship.

S: It would seem the crucial point is that Qatar appears to have very liberal rules for attaining citizenship. I think it makes Qatari football look like a bit of a joke franky.

B: I don’t think it says anything about Qatari football, its not like they are breaking the rules, I think your complaint is more centered at FIFA.

S: It may well be, frankly I’m ignorant of the rules. But I thought FIFA’s rules were based on five years of playing in one country.

B: If not FIFA, then the AFC, because for whatever reason, these guys were allowed to play last night with so many non-Qatari players.

S: I think I will have a look into what the rules are. It would certainly seem that, however many players without any family links to Qatar played, they weren’t doing anything wrong technically. But I don’t think its right or fair. Plus you’d think Evergrande would have something to say about it, given that they have tried to have the foreigner restriction eased before.

B: But there’s nothing to say, they followed the rules…Of course if Evergrande would have lost (or loses the tie), we’ll hear a lot of whining.

S: That’s a fair point. And I mean, look at FIFA, I know its fashionable to say its corrupt. But there is a reason for that, there is a lack of accountability. Blatter just looks like an old idiot to me with too much power. So if that’s FIFA, you have to think about what the confederations under it are like, I suspect the AFC is not much more transparently run.

B: I brought this up briefly last week, it is completely wrong what they are doing and it just hurts the game locally, but the AFC is pretty clear about their rules and if the side was able to field that many foreigners, it must be because the rules are written too loosely. I just think it’s a boring topic…It was brought up in basketball a few weeks back because the Chinese national team lost to Taiwan, sorry, Chinese Taipei, who had a naturalized American who went off for over 20 points. That’s too damn bad, but they aren’t breaking the rules.

S: Yeah man. It’s all technicalities. I think there is a line to be drawn though. Scotland has a few English-born players, but they have Scottish parents and grandparents. We have one naturalized Scottish player, but he grew up in Scotland and committed himself to playing for Scotland right from an early age. So I think this is acceptable, because these guys are not doing it for fame or money, and yes, most if not all would not get a game for England granted, but I don’t have a problem with it if there is a genuine connection. But there is only one reason foreign players goto Qatar and that is money.

B: I don’t like it, it’s arguable if this is “moral” or not, but oh well. Former Chinese citizens populate the table tennis and badminton teams for countries throughout the world for the same reason. It’s just that Chinese citizenship rules are so strict that China doesn’t have any people like that. Whatever. The rules allow it, I’m sorry, the gripes with the rules, not with Qatar.

S: Yes it’s the rules which need to be looked at ultimately. Well, that was an intriguing angle there. Care to cast your mind back to last weekend’s CSL action?

B: Sure, I think we have to stay on (well, go back to) the subject of Evergrande, who made things interesting much the way they did last night, by blowing chance after chance (that’s Gao Lin for ya). At the same time, Changchun was able to get an early strike and a frustrated Guangzhou were very chippy and disorganized until Elkeson and Feng Xiaoting came on in the 2nd half.

S: It was one of Evergrande’s poorest performances so far this season, and yet, they still left with three points. Selfishly from a Shenhua angle, that was good for us at the other end of the table. But for all those wanting to see Evergrande trip up, their hopes were dashed.

B: It’s what I’ve said all year, they need to be jumped on early and that’s what Changchun did and Evergrande were frustrated, Zheng Zhi should get honorable mention for worst tackle of the season.

S: I didn’t see that, but I did see some apparently poor goalkeeping which led to Conca’s freekick going in.

B: Anyways, indeed, results couldn’t have gone better for Shenhua, who are still on the fringe of the relegation picture but should be safe.

S: Yeah I was very pleasantly surprised, especially considering results had emphatically not gone Shenhua’s way of late. I was particularly stunned by East Asia’s 3-2 victory away to Tianjin. That was quite something, and, another Wu Lei hat-trick.

B: It was a real shoot out, Tianjin almost was able to continue their run of form, but Wu Lei is one hell of a player, he showed why once again. As a Shenhua fan are you scared of seeing him this weekend?

S: Yes I am, his confidence is growing and he will be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of seeing a centre-back at right back, a midfielder at left-back and a 40-year-old at centre-back.

B: The disarray of the Shenhua back four, never did I think I’d see Wang Changqing as a full-back. So what do you think of the “derby”? Will you be making the short trip across town?

S: I will indeed be heading down to Xujiahui for the Shanghai Derby. There’s all manner of banter going on the Shanghai interwebs this week, and security precautions are tight – away fans have been ordered to show up nearly 3 hours before the game kicks off.

B: I can imagine, this is a rivalry that, with time, could really turn into something.

S: I think so, East Asia already has a stronger fanbase than the old Inter Shanghai team, and the anti-Shenhua crowd is rallying behind them. What has soured the mood in Hongkou is East Asia sending a fax to Shenhua this week, reminding them that they are contractually obliged not to play Bai Jiazhun or Zhan Yilin against their former club on Saturday. A rather odd state of affairs, but, there you have it.

B: A weakened Shenhua side will be even weaker, a real uphill battle. I’m looking forward to that one, but it’s not the only derby match of what looks like it may be the most exciting weekend of CSL football all year.

S: Yeah it seems like we have been grumbling to each other about the bland fixture cards for weeks, but the CSL is really going to town this weekend – there’s another city derby down in Guangzhou as Sven faces Marcello for the first time. Offt!

B: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that one. We’ve talked about how Sven’s gotten things back on track down there after a bad start, now it’s time for him to face his biggest challenge so far.

S: Yes and I think this is the best chance there is for the rest of the year for those hoping to see Evergrande cut down to size. Sven will want to make his mark, and Evergrande have done poorly against R&F historically.

B: I still think the trip to Shandong will be the best hope, but this is certainly up there. It will be played at Tianhe, but it will certainly be exciting, however I think the Italian’s going to win this one.

S: It will definitely be a fascinating contest, plus R&F have quite a few former Evergrande players coming into form. So I think I for one will be tuning in on Sunday night.

B: Yes, though the weekend also sees two very exciting relegation battles as Wuhan hosts Tianjin and Changchun travels to Nanjing to take on Jiangsu.

S: I’d say if Jiangsu can beat Changchum they shouldn’t have much to worry about relegation wise. How disappointed must they be this season after last year’s unexpected runners-up spot.

B: I don’t know, I don’t think they have much to be disappointed about, I expected they’d be in the bottom half of the table, though not quite as close to the relegation picture as they currently are.

S: I think they should have at least been challenging for the ACL, they clearly missed Danalanche. He’s back now, but I don’t think he’s scored many.

B: I don’t see them being that high. Then again, what does “challenging for the ACL” actually mean? Liaoning’s right in the middle in 8th on 26 points, 9 away from Changchun in 15th place and 8 away from Guoan in 3rd place. That’s the CSL for ya. Jiangsu were incredible overachievers last year, this year they came back down to earth.

S: Yeah, interesting points. As for the other relegation clash, I can’t see Tianjin slipping to Wuhan, who, have changed manager yet again.

B: I would agree, Wuhan’s in a state of disarray, firing their manager a little too easily and even though it’s away, Tianjin should take all three in that one.

S: Yeah it’s heating up. And Wuhan appear to have thrown in the towel by sacking their boss again.

B: At 8 points from safety and 2 victories in 21 matches, I can see why they’d throw in the towel.

S: It’s a truly abysmal record. And I know Wuhan is one of the numerous teams you particularly dislike. Unfortunately for you however, it seems they will be replaced by another, Henan are poised to make an immediate return from the CL1.

B: Indeed, how unfortunate…Well, there’s one more interesting clash this weekend, after fighting to get a point at Guiyang, Beijing Guoan are up against another challenger for the final ACL spot as they host Dalian Aerbin at Gongti. One point of interest though, once again the ACL spots aren’t fixed and there is rumblings China will only get 3.5. We’re in for a long off-season.

S: Oh god, not again. What’s going on there?

B: The AFC won’t make a decision about positions until November and who knows what system they will use. This is the second year they’ve had a “proposed” system that would create more births, but last year they didn’t follow it and we’ll have to wait and see if they do so this year.

S: What a dog’s dinner. Why can’t they pick a system and stick to it? I think all teams deserve to know what is up for grabs at the end of a season, before that season kicks off. It’s especially awkward because some associations leagues are not quite in step with the rest of the continent schedule-wise. The A-League for example.

B: Such is Asian football, it can’t keep itself from doing your head in. Anyways, it should be an interesting clash at Gongti, what with Stanojevic going up against his own club, this time fielding an actual first team, and Utaka meeting his old teammates.

S: Yeah I think that’s another clash to get excited about. What’s your feeling on it? Confident?

B: Not overly confident, but Guoan’s home form has been decent enough, I’m looking forward to it.

S: Yes. Well, we’ve rambled all over Asia today. Anything else going on ?

B: I think that about sums it up, time to down these beers and end another day in the pub.

S: I think so, it was another good few pints. Cheers!

B: 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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