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Pub Talk: Evergrande unstuck in Oz, but march on in China

This week the lads turn their attention to the Asian Champions League. Or at least the East Asian half. Your pair of football lovers discuss the first leg against Sydney – how was it for you Mr Lippi? Controversy abound, what lies in the next round? Meanwhile, there’s a bogeyman or three lurking in the pub. What’s going on there? Mr Ultra explains. Elsewhere, there’s a blue moon as Gao Lin earns sympathy from a very unlikely source – might it be from a northerly location? There’s also time to discuss the title race – or lack of it, and Harbin is back in the grinder. That’s what’s in the pub this week, please do join in the discussion below in the comments section.

B: We’re back in the pub, it’s another fun week and on top of everything we have the Asian Champions League to talk about.

S: Yes, the pub is back and so is the ACL. What say you B?

B: To me it was interesting how this trip to Sydney would effect Evergrande this weekend (oh wait, it won’t because they already played this weekend’s match). I think Western Sydney was a bit of a surprise coming out of the group stage, but I don’t think anyone thought they’d be able to win, especially since they haven’t played a competitive match in many months.

S: That’s a very good point – Western Sydney were bound to be a bit rusty so they deserve plaudits for the win. It’s interesting Evergrande aren’t playing this weekend – the reason Shenhua gave for rescheduling that game to the week before the World Cup final was because of a “large scale exercise” taking place at Hongkou. That’s quite a coincidence.

B: Indeed it is. I’m no expert on the A-League, but I do think their close season based on the European style (in part to avoid playing during the winter?) instead of like the other Asian leagues is a serious detriment to their hopes in the ACL.

S: I think the A-League’s scheduling is to do with not wanting to clash with other more established sports in Australia too much. But Western Sydney have been in existence for less than 3 years, yet here they are in a ACL quarter final, with a victory in the first leg. Obviously they are doing something right and Evergrande are now up against it.

B: Exactly, it was a long trip to Australia and Western Sydney had one of the A-League’s better attendances (and are in a football specific stadium).

S: We’ve talked a lot about Evergrande having a difficult start to the second half of the season, but I always get the impression they are keeping their powder dry for the ACL.

B: No matter their struggles, they have enough depth to fight on multiple fronts, and getting knocked out of the CFA Cup means they are that much fresher. And of course, the “exercises” at Hongkou mean they don’t need to worry about a weekend league match.

S: Ha ha…maybe it’s Xu Jiayin at Hongkou driving golf balls into the pristine turf. For the game itself – a lot of controversy last night – so much so Mr Lippi encroached on the field of play. Tut tut!

B: I wonder if the Chinese league has forced him into these bad habits, but two players seeing red in the final minutes would drive anyone crazy. We once again Zhang Linpeng’s immaturity getting the best of him.

S: It was disappointing for Zhang to act in such a manner, and in general I think the game re-inforced the CSLs bogeyman image in Australia.

B: It was a surprising win for sure, it’s not that Guangzhou played badly, they controlled play for much of the match, but they just don’t have the dominance they had previously. They go into the second leg without two key players, it’s going to be a fight.

S: Do you have anything to say about the sending off of your own bogeyman, Gao Lin?

B: Gao Lin’s a classless player, but in this case, I have to admit he was the victim, it appears that he didn’t touch the player at all. I think for a lot of domestic Chinese fans, they’ll be saying that this is what happens in Asia, Evergrande doesn’t have the AFC in their pocket like the CFA.

S: Did you hear that thudding noise ? That was the sound of everyone falling off their bar stools at hearing Bcheng sympathize with Gao Lin.

B: As much as I dislike him, it is what it is, it seemed he avoided touching the player and therefore the straight red was unfair. Guangzhou is applying to the AFC to reconsider, not sure if it will do any good.

S: It’s always a can of worms, retrospective punishments / rescindments. At any rate, Evergrande have a tough game in store this time next week.

B: Certainly, it’s going to be a good one.

S: Right so moving on, these beers are strong this week aren’t they? I’m losing track.

B: Ha ha. Well, time to get back to subjects we know a little more about, and we can stick to Evergrande, that was a big win for them over the weekend.

S: It was, a very late goal which I’m afraid puts the league title beyond discussion.

B: I would hardly go that far…

S: That’s not what you said last week.

B: Honestly, if you look at the remaining matches, it’s tough to see where Guoan will catch Evergrande. I admit that, doing the math, I don’t see Beijing winning it, but if Guangzhou keeps cutting it close, you never know. Dropping points to Tianjin would have been a big surprise and a big help, but just that Evergrande keeps getting into these sticky situations is reason for those who have a more optimistic personality than I to remain hopeful.

S: That’s not an an impossible scenario, but for me, nothing to say about it, Evergrande will win the league again come what may.

B: Guoan is coming through the hardest part of their schedule (playing rivals Shenhua and then Shandong in the Cup, then the teams in 4th, 3rd, 5th, and 6th, respectively) and has done pretty well. I’m sticking to what I’ve said all along, if Guoan wins this game in hand and keeps the deficit at around 4 points going into the final three matches, there’s a chance they can win it.

S: Good luck- you’ll need it!

B: Since we’re on the subject of the hard stretch Guoan has gone through, let’s talk about them, on Monday they looked like they were sleep walking through the match, but a Guizhou goal early in the second half woke them up and in the end, they found a winner late on.

S: Yeah Guoan I think are stronger than last season and they have been very consistent for the most part. I didn’t catch the game to be honest but the result wasn’t a surprise.

B: To me it was only a surprise in that they pulled it out, this is a game that other Guoan sides would not have won. I think the changes they made in their foreigners was huge and I honestly think the picture would be far different if they had Dejan and Erton from the season’s start.

S: Dejan’s a class act and has made an instant impact, something of a contrast with his time at Sainty. It’s a funny old game.

B: I didn’t watch him much at Sainty but my impression was that he was flying under the radar, but if you look at his stats, he played 11 matches and scored 5 goals, on pace for double digits, that’s not going to put him up among the very best strikers in the league, but those are still decent numbers.

S: Agree with that. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next season with Guoan, assuming Dejan stays.

B: Right, I think they have 4 of their 5 foreigners in place right now, they’ll probably let Darko go, as sad as that will make everyone, and bring in an upgrade. That said, I am sort of worried that this year was a major blown chance, Evergrande’s turnover has weakened them and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to the drawing board and restock in the offseason.

S: That’s the fear. But also I wonder if Evergrande are taking their foot of the gas a bit now that Xu Jiayin has got most of the political capital out of the club he can with the ACL victory last year. Also the Taobao investment, will that mean more money will be going into the club or not? I am not sure.

B: Good points there. So let’s talk about a side drama from the match, Zhu Jiong was very unhappy with the referee, stepping on the pitch at one point, the Guoan fans got on him and he showed his middle finger, though he insisted that wasn’t the case, the evidence says otherwise. The CFA looks like they’ll come down on him for not coming out and apologizing, he’ll likely be suspended for 4 or more matches.

S: I think stepping onto the pitch is the more serious misdeanour there, for once I think I can almost agree with a CFA punishment.

B: Wow, a rare moment indeed. Well, beyond what we saw at the top of the table over the weekend, all three Shanghai clubs found success, most important in your eyes is surely Shenhua’s very unusual away win, but for the rest of us, it was Shenxin’s victory at Harbin that was the focus of the weekend.

S: The Shenxin result was the most significant one of course, and, I might add, the most personally disappointing. Harbin are running out of time in the relegation fight.

B: Yes, only 9 matches left and things aren’t looking too good for Harbin, it’s unfortunate and I think a lot of us are going to be disappointed. Like with the title race, there’s still time, but it’s getting bleaker.

S: At least we have the 2nd bottom place there to provide a wider scope for who’s going down. But I don’t want to say too much right now on that. One might suspect we can’t wait for the season to be over if looking too far ahead.

B: Indeed, it’s just we’re getting down to the end of it now…So this round you are just an impartial observer, where will your focus be?

S: I’m sure you’ll agree match of the round is in Jinnan – I’m looking forward to catching this one, although Shandong are on a bad run of form and have plummeted down the table.

B: Most definitely, it would jump off the page no matter what, but especially in light of the other matches this round, it’s the one we’ll all be focused on.

S: Yeah, inspite of my earlier view about the destination of the championship, both sides still have plenty to play for, Shandong desperately need a win to keep their ACL hopes alive, and of course Guoan wil not want to do all they can to stay within touching distance of Evergrande. How do you see the game unfolding?

B: I think this is such a difficult match to predict right now because of how up and down Shandong has been. Guoan need this win, but have struggled on the road and no matter how either team is doing, this is one where you really throw out the records. It’s going to be a massive crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Jinan and should be a really intense match. My heart wants to say Guoan will come away with a close win, but it’s very difficult to predict.

S: I totally agree. Guoan have the form, but Shandong have only lost once at home this season. Cuca is surely on shakey ground, but a victory in this game would be a big boost for his credentials in terms of remaining in the Shandong hotseat.

B: Exactly, it’s surely going to be one worth watching. Shandong put Dai Lin on the pre-match poster for this one, I’m sure he’s going to play a big part in this one. It also should be mentioned Guoan has already lost to Shandong twice at Gongti this year, so they will certainly want revenge.

S: I saw the Dai Lin poster – he’s a natural choice for raising temperatures pre-game. Let’s hope things don’t get too heated – many is the time Dai Lin has succumbed to his suspect temprement and left on-pitch proceedings early.

B: More importantly to me is the fact that in the past 3 seasons, Dai Lin has been the direct cause of at least 4 Guoan players seeing red.

S: I suspect his aura of chaos was not limited to playing against Guoan either, but that is quite a stat.

B: Haha, indeed, well, we have only addressed Guoan and Shandong’s match this coming weekend, but not really sure if there’s anything else to talk about.

S: That’s what I was thinking. But at the risk of making everyone think the pub has a Harbin fetish, I think Harbin v Hangzhou is worth a mention – it’s a really winnable game for the home side. And if they don’t take 3 points, I think it’s probably thank you and good night for them.

B: I think there are few around the country (save those in Liaoning), who don’t want to see Harbin stay up. Hangzhou’s not had a good year, but their big win against Shandong last weekend moved them 7 points above the relegation zone, which looks safe. As you said, if Harbin can’t win this one, it’s pretty much over up there.

S: That would be a shame with their pretty big crowds. Elsewhere Guangzhou R&F are having a great season, they are flying under the radar a bit, but they’ve been pretty consistent, I’d expect them to beat Changchun this weekend.

B: I don’t think anyone predicted R&F to finish as high as they’re going to and Hamdallah is having a hell of a season for them. That said, last week’s loss to Henan was a big surprise.

B: It’s one of those late season jaw droppers….

S: It was, although Henan seem to be Guangzhou city’s bogeyman. Have we set a record use for the word “bogeyman” in the pub today?

B: It certainly has featured heavily in your vocabulary.

S: It’s just a co-incidence – Henan do have that rougish quality which bogeymen need I think. So, what else is lurking this week?

B: I think that about sums things up

S: Sounds about right. It’s been another fun pub visit, here’s to another weekend of great football.

B: Indeed, cheers mate.

S: 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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