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Pub Talk: Onwards and upwards for the national team

Some unexpected good results for the national team has your two pub-goers more eager to discuss meaningless friendlies than usual. What’s behind the resurgence? Is the new boss the key factor? Will he keep his job? Lippi and managerial changes from the past are discussed, as are the key men on the pitch for China in the future. Elsewhere, the CSL resumes – Shenhua v Evergrande is digested, and more meaningful games for the ACL and relegation races are covered too. Finally there’s room to discuss absolute absurdity, in the shape of pitch-invading red-cardee Zhu Ting, and his punishment, or lack of, recieved. Fun and games in the pub as usual!

Shanghai Ultra: In the Pub again! Are you enjoying the CSL break B?

Bcheng: No matches is always a restless time, though last night the Royal Army celebrated its eight birthday by winning two matches in the Beijing Supporter’s League, so at least I’ve had some football to watch. Oh wait, China played a few friendlies too…

S: Great to see you’ve been running off all these pints. Yeah, more friendlies, but seems like China is o a mini-revival since Camacho was sacked.

B: Yes, Fu Bo has put together a string of decent results. They really spanked Singapore 6-1 and then switched the entire lineup and beat Malaysia 2-0. Decent results all around, but I wouldn’t get too excited about it.

S: Agree. The results do restore confidence and that is a key element which has been missing from the NT. The real business starts next month in the Asian Cup qualifiers against Indonesia. I think Fu really should know his best XI by now, friendly and experimentation time is over. So I think the Asian Cup quals will be a better test of how much the team has improved since Camacho left.

B: Right, to me, Fu hasn’t managed the side in a serious match, next month’s matches against Indonesia will see what he can do. There is a lot of hope in the youngsters that he’s brought into the lineup, Wu Lei, Yu Dabao, and Zhang Xizhe are ready for the limelight, and guys like Gao Lin, Yu Hanchao, and Yu Hai may be on the outside looking in.

S: I think he should definitely build the attack around Wu Lei and Yu Dabao, this pair are quality and will be around for years to come.

B: And Zhang Xizhe, he’s shown himself to be arguably the most important of those three, both creating and scoring.

S: I think so, also Zheng Long got on on the scoresheet, I wonder how long it will take Evergrande to sign him up, er, oh wait….

B: Yeah, he was part of what looked to be the “lesser” side that took on Malaysia, but even that lot still looked good.

S: I’m a fan of Zheng, he’s nimble and a great passer. China seem’s to be over stocked with midfielders.

B: Central midfielders, that is. I had this talk with someone the other day, the midfield is loaded, so much so that they are pushing central players to the wing because they have no other place to play them (and a dirth of wingers). China’s biggest issues right now are at striker, though Yu Dabao has shown himself to be a quality choice, and at center back.

S: Yeah and I wonder if the NT is suffering a bit because Zhang Linpeng is playing at right-back these days for Evergrande when he’s clearly a great centre-half.

B: I think they’re much better served with him on the right, but because of a lack of centers at the national team level, they’re forced to play him there. He’s struggled a bit in his past few national team outings, perhaps it is due to the position switch, but I think he mentally really needs to mature.

S: I think so, he gave away a penalty a few games ago if I recall, with a very clumsy tackle. Anyway, as we said, friendlies are friendlies. Anything more to add about the NT?

B: I just think there are a lot of reasons for cautious optimism right now, but it needs to be kept in check, let’s talk after Indonesia.

S: I think that’s spot on. So tonight the CSL resumes, Shenhua make a visit to Evergrande. Surprisingly, Shenhua have taken more points from their last 3 games than Evergrande. I don’t expect a win, but Shenhua always raise their game against top teams. So it will be an interesting match, any thoughts on that?

B: I’d say Evergrande 2-0. They’ll be looking for a win coming off their first loss and being back at home is certainly going to help.

S: Not an unreasonable prediction. Thinking back, ever since I have watched Shenhua, they have always been a team which performs very well against big rivals, but slips up against weaker opposition. It’s amazing how this habit has endured despite the entire team having changed over the years. Even this year, with our crappest squad ever, we played out of our skin in the first half of the first meeting. I’m not sure what I’d predict. Hard to say.

B: Is Evergrande a rival of Shenhua?

S: That’s a good question. Evergrande’s rise has coincided with Shenhua’s fall over the last few years, so we have never battled them in the league as genuine title challengers. Plus we have very good relations with the fans.

B: Haha, I think pretty much everyone in the league, maybe R&F exempted, have good relations with their ultras. A good group of guys.

S: Very much so. Plus I think in Shenhua fans’ minds, Evergrande are a far superior team, no-one expects to take anything, even last year with Drogba and Anelka, the gulf in overall class was clear. They are a big team though, Shenhua always play well against big teams or get respectable results for the most part. What else is of interest this weekend then?

B: Well, before we get into that, what do you think about Wuhan’s Zhu Ting only getting 6 games for going after the referee?

S: I think it’s a joke. Sorry to hark back to Wang Shouting, but we must for the purposes of illustrating the absurd inconsistency of CFA punishments. Wang got banned for 5 games for pulling a cheating, play-acting opponent off the pitch. Zhu Ting gets banned for only one game more after rushing onto the pitch in an attempt to assault the referee, for getting sent off, for getting carried off kicking and screaming like a baby, and most likely for verbally abusing the referee. There is zero justification for the difference between these two punishments being so small.

B: It was very surprising, I was expecting at least 8 matches. I wonder if the club involved had anything to do with it. It’s sad to say, but I think the CSL feared that if they came down with a stronger suspension, Wuhan would quit the league again.

S: Yes that must have crossed their minds. But it can’t be a reason for the CFA to ease off. I just find Zhu Ting to be a joke figure, he’s 28 years old, not 8. Shame on him, and shame on the league for not banning him for the rest of the season.

B: Well, back to the Shenhua-Evergrande clash, stories abound that Lippi rejected the CFA’s offer to serve as China’s manager for the time being. I’m not really surprised by that. I think we’ll see him take over after the 2014 season.

S: I think the CFA should clarify things before they emark on the rest of their Asian Cup campaign, not doing so risks disrupting the squad.

B: I think its pretty clear that Fu Bo will be in charge through the qualifying process, then they’d look for someone before the Asian Cup. It would make sense and it’s difficult to attract a “big name” manager for a bunch of meaningless friendlies with some qualifiers sprinkled here and there.

S: Hmm…China doing well under a Chinese manager, then he’s booted out for a big-time foreign boss when more important games come along. Does that sound familiar?

B: Point taken, but I think there’s a big difference. Whoever the next manager is will have 2 months, unimpeded by anything else, to prepare the side for the Asian Cup, if it’s a positive choice, like Lippi, I think that should work.

S: I do think Lippi is a far, far more competent manager than Camacho, plus he knows China much better, so, it would be a more sensible change than when Camacho came in, I think so.

B: Anyways, the CFA is once again bending to “national success” (or Evergrande’s will) and has put forth 3 options for the CFA Cup, based on if Evergrande get in the finals or not. If they do, we won’t see that competition wrap up until December.

S: What’s the score there? I haven’t seen that news.
Yeah I don’t like how everything is changed for whoever is doing well. This moving things around makes the CFA cup look meaningless, which I don’t think is a good idea, Chinese football needs a credible cup competition. Oh well.

B: It’s a joke. I can only imagine the conditions in Beijing or Dalian in early December. Certainly far from ideal for a cup final….Anyways, speaking of Beijing, I think they have the most exciting match of the weekend, against the blue side of Guangzhou. A big match with important ACL implications.

S: It is, probably one of the few remaining games of much significance between teams at the top end of the table. Prediction?

B: Sven has R&F on a roll, but I think going into Gongti will be too much for them, Guoan will take it confidently, 3-1. And with that, keep hold of the ACL spot.

S: I think that would effectively knock R&F out of it and make it a two way fight between you guys and Guizhou.

B: Yeah, the spot is Guoan’s to lose right now, I’m confident they’ll keep hold of it.

S: I think so, you’ve been 3rd for practically the whole season, I don’t see that changing, unless you lose this game. Guizhou have a tricky game against Changchun, they need to win to stay in contention.

B: Right. If I had to choose another match of interest, I think Jiangsu and Tianjin will be the one to watch. Jiangsu still isn’t completely out of danger, nor, of course, is Tianjin, should be fun.

S: Yeah that is the other choice fixture. Tianjin are up against it, it’s very tight down there. There is also the Shandong provincial derby, Qingdao face a tough task to pull themselves out of their downwards spiral. They could be in serious danger if they lose and other results don’t go their way. I could see them going down to be honest.

B: Yeah, the relegation picture is something to watch, it’s sure to go down to the wire.
And with that another pub session is brought to an end?

S: I think it is B. Another interesting week. 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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