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Pub Talk: Evergrande ACL win , Shandong Gongti shocker and Shanghai Derby

Action abound this week in the pub, as the exciting ACL group climax reached it’s conclusion – Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra discuss the winners now that the action is over and look at who is left to mop up. Refereeing standards take a hit again, as that huge game at Gongti last week is mulled over – is Dai Lin the biggest buffoon in the CSL? Shandong’s bittersweet week is examined. Peering ahead through their beer googles, this weekend’s Shanghai derby is on the agenda – an incestous affair, but will Shenhua fans blame it on the Greenland should it go wrong? The World Cup gets a mention, and does poor old Harbin – will their luck change since as they play their first ever home CSL  game, seven games into the season? B is in Black Dragon River party pooper mode for that one. Strange goings on in the south are discussed – what’s going on with Sun Jihai and Guizhou? It seems some backroom shuffling is in the offing. So join in with the shuffling action, and have your say in the comments section. Let the drinking commence…

S: Good to see you again in the pub B, how’s it looking this week?

B: The picture for Chinese football is much less rosy than a week ago….

S: It is. The exciting ACL group climax we spoke about last week led to premature exits for most of China’s participants.

B: It’s somewhat disappointing, but I can’t say I’m surprised by any of the results.

S: I think it’s especially disappointing considering all 4 teams where looking strong midway through the group campaign. And compared to last year’s CSL in Asia record, this year it’s back to square one really isn’t it?
Excepting Guizhou that is, in terms of looking strong this year.

B: Like we talked about last week, I’m okay with Guoan being knocked out. Even if they got through, they weren’t going very far, so its better just to focus on the league. I think the fact they were all in it going into the final day is enough. In the case of Guoan, they gave up too many points at home, especially after going up 2-0 against Sanfrecce.

S: That’s understandable. Actually it seems like the season has barely begun yet we’ve squeezed in 6 ACL group games already. So that’s going to have an effect on clubs performances in the CSL, we saw a lot of squad rotation this week.

B: Yeah, its disappointing that China only has one side going through, but I don’t think there’s any reason to draw any conclusions regarding that.

S: I totally agree. I think in Asia in general, things develop and change quite fast, Evergrande, in Asian terms at least and speaking relatively, sprung up from nowhere, they had never played in the continent until a couple of years ago, yet last year they won it. Similarly, once the ACL put more prize money in, the Japanese sides starting taking it more seriously a few years ago, that was another fairly sudden change. So my point is, things change fast in Asia, it’s still developing, it’s not like Europe where we could see some countries rising and falling over a number of years and there being lots of trends to spot. The ACL is fairly unpredictable outside of the fact Japanese and Korean teams tend to do well and Chinese teams are doing a little better than before on average.

B: If you want to make a conclusion about the ACL this year, the one I’d make is that the Australian sides seem to be improving. Only one got through, but Melbourne Victory were in it until the end and made things hard for Evergrande by beating them at home, also Guoan’s loss at Central Coast was a disappointment that left them in a tougher position.

S: Yeah I’d go along with that. I think the most notable failure for the CSL is Shandong.

B: I don’t know, they’ve been struggling all year, though it was disappointing after being up 1-0 to then give up two quick goals in the second half like they did.

S: They aren’t firing on all cylinders as we’ve said before. Finishing bottom of their group is surely a big let down, and losing their last game at home the same. What is interesting is that they conceded more goals than any other team in the East Asian half, when you look at the purchases they’ve made, Wang Dalei, Dai Lin, plus having top CSL defenders like Ryan McGowan and dare I say Du Wei in there already, that’s a little shocking.

B: Well, it’s just flat out odd. They conceded 11 goals in the 6 ACL matches, but have only conceded 2 in 7 league matches.

S: That’s a very perplexing statistic. I can’t really offer any explanation of any kind.

B: It is, I just think you have to chalk it up as one of those football anomalies…On the subject of stats, I finally realized what the 60 patch that the teams had on their sleeves was, the AFC is pushing a campaign that the actual playing time of each match should exceed 60 minutes, this is something great that I wish the CSL would implement. Of course, Chinese sides are regular offenders and few matches met the 60 minute mark, though across the board it seems to be a problem in Asia.

S: Well I think the solution is very simple – referees just need to implement the rules properly and add the proper amount of time on when there are stoppages. Players and managers adopt time-wasting tactics for one obvious reason – it works.

B: Indeed…While Guizhou were out of it going into the final matchday, I think at this point we should spend a minute talking about them. I have to be honest, it wasn’t until Guoan played them a few weeks back that I realized Gong Lei had both Zhu Jiong and Yang Chen in his managerial team, I never saw that ending well, but I’m surprised Gong is out a little quicker than I expected. It’s so very Chinese, the love of titles, Zhu Jiong goes from technical director to manager, while Gong Lei goes from manager to deputy GM…Very odd…

S: Yeah I saw he left – it seems there’s been all kinds of internal strife, Sun Jihai posted some messages of frustration on his weibo after Guizhou exited in the second last group round of the ACL.

B: It’s odd, though, that he’s staying active in the club, in theory he’ll now be one of Zhu’s bosses. As a manager it has to be difficult to have your replacement sitting on the bench with you, despite Gong leading them to the CFA Cup, the credit really lies with Gao Hongbo, I can’t see anyone surprised at this decision as Guizhou has struggled in Asia and the league.

S: I don’t understand what’s going on down there. Guizhou always seem to me like a team who could do so much better. I’d agree Gao Hongbo laid the foundations, although anytime I’ve watched them Sun Jihai looks like he’s really past it even at CSL level. I’m sure there is a role for him somewhere though, his experience as a Chinese who once cut it at a high level abroad is invaluable.

B: Hopefully they can work out their internal issues, they have a decent amount of talent and Chen Zijie has really been a revelation this season.

S: Indeed. So Evergrande are through, I think most of us expected them to make it, they’ve got Cerezo Osaka in the next round, do you think they will go far again?

B: I think anything can happen in the knockout stage, Osaka struggled through their group, so I think Evergrande should be able to get past them, but it really depends on how things go from there. As of now, I don’t think you can bet against them, Muriqui and Elkeson are just too dominant.

S: Elkeson is starting to hit a run of form, he’s one of the best players in the continent on his day. I’ve been looking over the ACL knockout stage rules, there’s a new curiosity this year – teams from the same association cannot meet each other in the quarter final.

B: That doesn’t make sense as there are two Korean sides facing each other in the Round of 16…

S: It doesn’t, but that is the rule for the quarter final I believe.

B: Very odd…But I don’t try to understand the goings on of the AFC…. Moving the show along, as much as I don’t want to talk about it, I think its time to go into the big match from the previous match day…

S: It is. I have to say I was shocked by the result, but probably not as shocked as you were.

B: It did come as a big surprise, there are reasons for it which we’ll go into, but honestly the one sided nature of the result shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Despite the fact these two teams are so close, their results are often very one sided, last year Guoan won 3-0, and 3-1, two years ago Shandong crushed Guoan 4-0.

S: That’s interesting. Plus add into the mix, Shandong have just been so hot and cold this season so far.

B: In the first 20 minutes Shandong went up 1-0 (despite an offside player in the build up) and then Joffre Guerron was shown a straight red, that completely changed the match.

S: It was a controversial game, full of bad behaviour from both sides.

B: Especially Shandong, was sad to see their foreigners getting involved in the time wasting tactics….Of course, the worst behavior was from a former Shenhua bad boy…

S: Yes, Dai Lin, being very unsportsmanlike as usual – if Guerron was sent off, then Dai Lin should also have been for play acting – rolling about on the ground because you got clipped in the face is pathetic and deserves a red card.

B: Unfortunately it comes down to bad refereeing. Guerron lashed out at Dai Lin on the sidelines after being tripped, kicked, and pushed by him three times, all fouls, in less than a minute. If the referee would have called any of these fouls, the incident never would have taken place.

S: Yeah, there were niggly fouls all through the game, plus when Guerron was sent off, he grabbed the referee’s shirt which is totally unacceptable.

B: What is unacceptable is having an incompetent referee in charge of such an important match. I know I’ve said this on here before, I hate blaming the referees, but the quality of play is improving, yet the quality of referees seems to be going backwards.

S: That may be true, but the referee being shoved about as well as having his shirt pulled is plain wrong, it happens in other places, but I think players need to get a hold of themselves better, even if Guerron’s frustration was understandable.

B: Yeah, you can’t touch the referee, even if you were shown red when in the matter of 30 seconds play should have been stopped three times and the other play should have seen yellow.

S: It’s like what we are saying about time wasting not being picked up on, referees really need to step it up too.

B: What do you make of Dai Lin’s post-match comments that its a sign of his maturity he’s no longer getting red cards and instead causing others to get red cards.

S: Well, I salute his sense of humour, if not his complete lack of sportsmanship – something I’ve always criticized him for.

B: Enough of that….what else caught your eye from the past weekend?

S: Guoan v Shandong was the first proper big clash of the season and it did overshadow the rest of the fixture card somewhat. I thought R&F’s 3-2 victory away to Changchun was a good result, its not an easy place to go. I was very disappointed by Harbin’s defeat to Hangzhou, I felt they were unlucky, I hope I don’t sound patronizing.

B: I was actually surprised R&F struggled as much as they did, it ain’t all that hard to play there, they have no fans and only 5 points this year, part of the reason their manager Svetozar Šapurić was let go. They seem to have a real love-hate relationship with him. As for Harbin, this is the third time I’ve seen them this year and the third time I thought they really didn’t deserve to lose.
Previously against Shandong and Shenxin, Harbin put up a good fight, but they just don’t seem to have the right mindset.

S: They are doing well considering the lack of investment in the team.

B: I think now that they finally will play at home, their luck will turn around, though they have a pretty big hole to dig themselves out of, it’s not going to be easy.

S: Yes it’s very unfortunate indeed. Do I smell an article about Harbin’s first home game coming up soon?

B: Yeah, I’m headed up there this weekend for the opener, looking forward to it, hope there will be some activities with the local fans. It’s a big deal, the first ever top flight footie match in Harbin.

S: That sounds like the makings of a classic away trip.

B: Unfortunately I’ve yet to get in touch with any locals, but no matter, its still going to be fun, the Harbin Beer will flow freely. I do have to say I’m clearly expecting Guoan to spoil the party for the locals.

S: You rotter! I don’t think there will be many betting on a home win all the same.

B: Though things do get easier for Harbin soon, they go to Henan midweek, then host Changchun. Unfortunately, outside of the Shanghai derby (I’m sure you’ll want to talk about it), I’m more interested in the midweek matches than what’s on tap this weekend.

S: Actually I had forgetten they’re squeezing in a round during the midweek, probably best to get the Shanghai Derby out of the way before moving onto that. I think it’s going to be a big game, East Asia will really fancy their chances, Shenhua are in disarray as usual.

B: True, to be honest I can’t see this one not turning out well for East Asia, but its going to be tight.

S: No-one in the Shenhua camp is that hopeful, I wouldn’t be predicting a win. But derbies by nature are unpredictable, and Shenhua are good at Shanghai Derbies. But then again… Shenhua are still in the midst of an identity crisis which will take the edge of this derby somewhat.

B: It’s going to be well worth watching, I think there’s starting to be the undertones of a real rivalry here, though one that is still lacking the vitriol typically found in a derby.

S: Yeah definitely. East Asia’s support has grown, and with the area of town its in, there’s a noticeably large contingent of foreign fans. But there was still way more Shenhua fans than East Asia fans in their own stadium last season, it will be interesting to see how things compare this year. But it is still a young rivalry and much as its real it’s not up there with the Inter Shanghai days, not yet anyway.

B: Of course, these things take time Still looking at this weekend, it will be an interesting match in Guizhou, two clubs who fired their managers in midweek.

S: They do. On the pitch, East Asia definitely appear to have an edge. Shenhua better hope Moreno isn’t injured or we can forget any chance of taking much from the game. East Asia with Wu Lei, Hysen and McBreen have one of the best attacking units in the league, and certainly much better than Shenhua’s, Ruiz has done very little and Firas is threatening to leave. Yes, more manager firing, coincidence brings both teams together to play against each other, that’s going to be a caretaker clash.

B: It’s just a nifty coincidence, can’t see Guizhou struggling.

S: Changchun have been pretty crap this season as expected, but Guizhou are in a bit of a mess, who knows if their staff shuffle will resolve matters or not.

B: Zhu Jiong gets to ease into the new position only facing Yatai this week.

S: We’ll see what happens there.

B: Anything else catch your eye this weekend?

S: I think we covered the most interesting clashes. As breather from discussing upcoming games, I see the rumour-mill is in full rotation again, Italian media saying Del Piero is being courted by Evergrande. I have to say that just looks like a huge bullshit rumour to me, it’s tedious to see all this so often.

B: I don’t know, with there being rumors that Elkeson is being courted by Napoli (I believe), Evergrande would have an opening.

S: That may be so but Del Piero is almost 40, Xu Jiayin has said a few times that signing players over 30 is against their policy. They made an exception in Diamanti, but he’s an active Italian squad player, Del Piero retired years ago, I don’t see any substance in this at all.

B: I get what you’re saying, it’s often as much the fault of agents as it is the media, nobody has clean hands.

S: Yes, thankfully tends to stay away from transfer gossip, even if we are not totally immune.

B: Indeed, we do a lot of hard work sorting through the bs.

S: And there’s a lot of bs to sort through. So what about the fixtures next midweek?

B: Again not much to get too excited about, but I think the Beijing-Jiangsu and Evergrande-East Asia matches will capture the most attention.

S: Both worth watching, but at this point there’s not as much we might be able to say since this weekend’s games will affect how the teams go into the midweek fixtures. I can’t remember many midweek matches last year, I’m guessing the schedule was compressed a bit this year to make up for the elongated break.

B: Yeah, it’s what we’ve come to expect during a World Cup year.

S: I think it makes sense to do that, but I am not clear as to why there are no games in the first two weeks of June when the World Cup doesn’t start until the middle of June. When you have teams like Harbin having to play 7 games away from home because of alleged weather problems it looks even more bizarre.

B: I think that’s a FIFA rule, giving the players time to take part in tune-up friendlies before the World Cup.

S: I thought it might be something like that. It would be interesting to compare with other summer leagues to see how they do it, like the MLS.

B: I’m not sure if the MLS has changed, but previously they didn’t even take the World Cup off, a fucking joke if you ask me.

S: Yes that seems rather silly indeed.

B: There are some in the US that still have a ways to go, as evidenced by this graphic. It makes me cringe…

S: Actually found that quite funny, even although i don’t know much about US sports. Well, I think we are pretty much done, unless you’ve something to add?

B: I”m okay with ending things here.

S: Ok, another solid drinking session ends. Cheers!

B: Cheers!

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…

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