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Pub Talk: That familiar feeling, China

It’s back to the text pub this week after the unexpected audio treat last week. But the discusion rages on as always, and China’s latest dissapointment is on the agenda. Was the 1-1 draw away to Indonesia really so bad? Your correspondents pontificate, as they single out who did well, who didn’t and the bizarre case of 74,500 missing fans. Moving back to the CSL, its crunch time now with just three games left – your dynamic pub partners lay things down for all to see, as several battles in the table really heat up. Meanwhile, there’s a little time to reflect on last weeks pubcast, with banter and irreverent remarks the other of the day. That’s the pub this week.

Bcheng: So we’re back in the pub and talking about a China “failure” once again, seems like nothing ever changes.

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah. A familiar feeling. But I’m guessing you don’t consider it to be a huge failure and I don’t either. A point away from home is never bad. Indonesia are no pushovers, I don’t think there’s any need for alarm.

B: Indonesia are definitely the weakest team in the group and they lost their two previous matches. I don’t want to say the East Asian Cup upped expectations, but I was looking for a little more out of the youngsters.

S: Yeah although I don’t think its a failure I think in the light of China’s recent progress it is certainly a disappointment. Who and what disappointed you the most?

B: I don’t want to single out any one player, it just seemed the team lacked the killer instinct after going up a goal. They sat back too much and were a little too complacent

S: I was surprised to see Wu Xi on the scoresheet. Was he playing in midfield?

B: Yeah, it was a nice effort by the youngster.

S: Another of Shenhua’s sell-offs, we could field a whole national team with our former domestic players. But anyway, was there anyone emerged with pass marks?

B: I liked the way Yang Hao performed, getting back into the starting lineup. Overall it was a young squad, with the exception of Zheng Zhi and Sun Xiang, so maybe we need to give them some time.

S: We do, but I think this result proves your caution over the East Asia Cup success and the other friendly victories a month or so back was justified. However, China are still in a qualifying position as things stand at the half way point. Two of the last three games are at home, so they still should qualify, to not do so would be a real disaster in my view.

B: I’m with you, they’re in second place right now and as you say, two of the three remaining matches are at home. They aren’t where we’d like them to be, but they aren’t in danger. Next month they play two matches in a week (I was confused and thought it was this month), that’s really going to decide things. What I will say is I’ve heard about the huge attendances some of the derbies get in Indonesia, so I was shocked that only 500 fans showed up to watch the national team.

S: Right, funnily enough I was just about to mention that. What is even more perplexing was that, at the same stadium in their last home Asian Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia, Indonesia attracted an 74,500 more people than against China. Curious to know why.

B: And thanks to a twitter friend, we now know why, the game was played behind closed doors, only 5,000 (extremely pricey) tickets were available.

S: Ah. What’s the story behind that? Sounds like the same kind of absurdity the CFA regularly comes up with.

B: I’m not sure, but would imagine it would have something to do with fan violence, which has regularly been a problem in Indonesia over the past few years.

S: You know we should have gotten Jahkarta casual on here, I’ve been a fan of his writing for many years now – I’m sure you’ve seen him online. He would have been able to shed a lot of light on everything and would be an interesting person in general to compare notes with.

B: He was the twitter “friend” I was referring to who told me it was behind closed doors. Maybe we can get him in the pub before the November match.

S: Yeah I thought it might be him you were referring to, he may even be reading this since Indonesia just played China if so the pub doors are always open. As for the match, I just think its odd that any tickets at all were sold if its meant to be closed doors.

B: Gotta make some money somehow…One more point on the national team, interesting to note that the remaining two home matches will be played in Xi’an, for teams like Indonesia and Iraq from a warm weather climate, Xi’an in November is going to be a bit of a rude awakening (though not as bad as, say, Shenyang).

S: Yes I noticed that – plus I think Xian will get right behind the national team, especially since they have been starved of football for the last two years after the abrupt departure of their CSL team.

B: And a final aside, Hong Kong’s still in the battle for a spot as well, they’re in Group E, sitting in 3rd place but tied with 2nd place Uzbekistan on 4 points.

S: That’s interesting also. It would be, I don’t what what adjective to use, but it would be something if they made it and China didn’t.

B: Exactly what I was thinking….so enough of that, we have league matches to talk about.

S: We do, and I just want to say Qingdao’s victory over Tianjin was the most shocking result of the season. The formbook wasn’t so much thrown out of the window, but dynamited into oblivion.

B: I just hope it wasn’t a “victory.”

S: Right, I saw the old “tacit agreement” headlines are back. Tianjin up to their old tricks again – what do you think?

B: Who knows, but you’re right, it was a shocking result. In one of the funniest stories I’ve seen, which just goes to show how anything is believable when it comes to Chinese football, a certain Cantonese club was implicated in the proceedings.

S: What’s the story, I haven’t heard about this.

B: So as a “thank you” for Zheng Long, Evergrande agreed to dropping three points against them, but then decided it would be too obvious and so looked at their schedule and picked Tianjin as the team to lose to, who would then agree to lose against Qingdao, thus getting them their three points.

S: An interesting theory. I am not sure what we can really say about it. What hold does Evergrande have over Tianjin?

B: I’m guessing the thinking goes Tianjin were okay with it as they’d get to be the team that beat Evergrande. I honestly don’t believe this story at all, but there’s been rumbling about it in the media.

S: It sounds a bit far-fetched. But certainly Evergrande losing to Qingdao would be just too much for anyone to belive.

B: Right…The important thing is that win changes the picture at the bottom, with Qingdao going two points above Changchun and into safety for the moment.

S: Yeah. And if I remember correctly, Changchun were one of the beneficiaries of Tianjin’s “generosity” last time this subject reared its ugly head, were they not?

B: Interesting you mentioned that as those two teams face off in Changchun this weekend, while Qingdao travels to, wait for it, Evergrande.

S: It’s really like some kind of puzzle trying to work out who has scratched who’s back. If at all. But let me tell you an interesting anecdote related to this. I’ve been reading Gianluca Vialli’s book, “The Italian Job”. In it he discusses the differences between the British and Italian games. He says that every year, in Serie B, the book makers don’t even take bets on games involving relegation-threatened teams, because its customary for a team who have nothing to play for to “give the other team the points” if that team might go down.

B: Well, all eyes will be on that match in Changchun to see what happens this weekend.

S: Yes, I wonder if Tianjin will suddenly recapture the form which saw them beat all the top teams in the league in quick succession? Or will there be some “favours” to be repaid? Sorry to indulge in this kind of innuendo, but the behaviour of the clubs, and the CFA’s unwillingness to do much about it, makes such speculation inevitable.

B: Right, anything’s possible, no matter what it will be an interesting pub next week.

S: Yes it will. What is also interesting now is that, for the first time in many months, all the CSL teams have now played the same number of games, thanks to Guangzou E and Liaoning drawing the other night, as Biffo’s report reveals.

B: Yes, well its about time, considering there are only three matches left in the season.

S: Yeah its been a strange state of affairs. Looking at the remaining games, the list of teams with nothing to play for is growing longer with each round. It’s really only you guys and Guizhou at the top with ACL, and QIngdao and Changchun at the bottom.

B: Personally, I disagree with that. If you look at the remaining games that both Jiangsu and Hangzhou have (both sides currently four above the drop), neither are out of the water yet and both have difficult schedules. Just looking at remaining opponents, if forced to guess I’d say Changchun should be safe and whoever loses the Jiangsu-Qingdao match next week is going down, but your guess is as good as mine right now.

S: Yeah its certainly possilbe other teams will get drawn in, and Qingdao’s miracle victory over Tianjin has changed the picture a great deal. But I just can’t really see Hangzhou or Sainty going down, that’s the basis of my view. But yes, it’s still quite tight. Jiangsu-Qingdao will be blood and thunder type game.

B: I’d agree, just saying, especially when looking at what Hangzhou has left (at Guoan, then host Guizhou, and finish off at Dalian), I could see them maybe only getting one point from those three matches. Could equally see Changchun (vs. Tianjin, at Shenhua, vs. Liaoning) earning 4 (or more).

B: I’d be leaning toward Qingdao or Hangzhou going down, Qingdao have an equally tough schedule (at Evergrande, hosting Jiangsu in a big one, then at Beijing). But anything can happen, as we’ve already said.

S: That’s a pretty good analysis. But Qingdao… they always seem to avoid relegation each year and their victory, regardless of how seriously Tianjin took the match, will have taken the massive albatross off their back of the long winless run. So on second thoughts, yeah its entirely possible Sainty or Greentown could bite the CSL dust.

B: It will certainly be a fun finish at the bottom of the table. We’ve already talked a little how the top really isn’t all that important as whoever finishes fourth still has a 3/4 chance of getting an ACL spot anyways.

S: That’s right, but I think you guys will clinch 3rd anyways, Guizhou have not impressed me that much when I’ve seen them, Guoan on the other hand for me are a far better team.

B: I would hope so…Speaking of finishes, I guess I should bring up something I’ll try to write about tomorrow, that is Mao Jianqing’s season (and career?) being finished after yet another alcohol fueled night out in Shanghai.

S: I didn’t hear about this to be honest. I was gonig to ask if he has taken leave of his senses again, but, I don’t think he has any senses to take leave of.

B: Seems like there was a bit of a training bust up that involved team captain Jiang Zhipeng, after a night out drinking, Mao decided he didn’t want to leave it at that and headed for Jiang’s dorm room and a fight ensued.

B: It’s too bad, Mao was on the outs at Guoan and it seemed like Zhu Jiong was going to be his savior, Shenxin abruptly fired him, but he’s not done that bad on the pitch since returning to Shanghai. However, after this, he’s expected to be suspended by the club and I can’t see another CSL itching at signing him.

S: I’d say his career in the CSL is over, he’s running out of clubs to sign for. All I can see is Mao is a wasted talent. His record since leaving Shenhua speaks for itself – he has struggled to establish himself and only seemed properly motivated when playing against his old club. His performances against Shenhua just prove that he has talent but doesn’t bother using it most of the time. Probably the only former China international Shenhua were right to get rid of.

B: Anything else on your mind about this weekend’s slate of matches?

S: I think that about wraps it up for this week.

B: Another end to the pub, not many left this year I fear. I know many readers (or listeners) really enjoyed last week’s pubcast, those are always fun, we’ll see what we can do about bringing more in the future.

S: Yeah it was one of our best yet, thanks for those who made kind remarks about the pubcast. I hope we can bring you guys more of the same. Once B comes to his senses and moves to Shanghai starts supporting Shenhua, pubcasts will be a weekly occurrence. LOL

B: Haha, I’ll let that slide….Cheers mate!

S: Heh heh probably for the best. Until next time, cheers!

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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