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Pub Talk: Intensification x5 rounds

The boys are back! Ultra returns after dealing with affairs close to the heart in the old country, and Bcheng is on a high with his beloved Guoan still in the championship fight.  It’s all to play for at the top – but will the championship race still be alive after this weekend? Your correspondent’s discuss. Things at the bottom are even more hot – ironically it’s the men from Ice City applying the heat. Someone will get burned – who? The pubsters ponder. Also on the agenda are international call-ups to the national squad, and the lads ask – is there a refereeing crisis in the CSL? The answers lie within – please join in the comments section after a pint or two. Cheers!

S: Greetings B, pub time calls once more. How are you?

B: I’m doing good, it’s great to be back in the pub after another few weeks off, have you found a new local or were you just too concerned with independence last week?

S: Indeed, I’m afraid I was too caught up in the rather momentous events back home to go drinking. So sorry for that, and apologies to all readers who were eagerly expecting another pub session to join.

B: That’s obviously understandable, and the result was to your liking.

S: Sort of. I wasn’t really very strongly in favour one way or another. People just believed what they wanted to believe for the most part when it came to the debate. I have to admit I found it a bit tedious having to explain to friends in Shanghai, Chinese and foreign, that the result was likely to be no. In fact some of the Lanmo invited me out to celebrate knowing I was someone who supported the NO campaign. But in truth there was nothing to celebrate. Scotland is now more divided than ever, and that hurts me. I’d rather there had been a stronger verdict one way or another so people can get on with it. The independence movement has always been in the minority, so before they had their say, and just accepted that most people didn’t want it. But the relatively close result (45% for independence) has given them the right to complain and talk about ridiculous conspiracy theories and say everyone was duped or whatever. When in reality it was an exemplary democratic exercise everyone should be proud of. So in the end, a lot of negative fall out.

B: Negativity all around, well what about last week’s CSL results, hoping there isn’t negativity there, especially after Shenhua won.

S: Yeah a good victory for Shenuha against a surprisingly lame looking Guizhou. I think the fact they have nothing to play didn’t help their performance. Another possible positive development for Shanghai is that Alain Perrin was at the game and there was speculation in local media Cao Yunding was among the players he was looking at. He did his chances no harm with a great through ball to set up the goal.

B: Was it Cao who provided the other great through ball that the striker couldn’t get on the end of?

S: I don’t recall exactly, but he put in a very good performance and has been much improved this year. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s been a revalation, but last year for whatever reason the wheels totally came off his wagon. We here at identified his talent a few years back when he broke onto the scene, it’s good recognition of his abilities is finally spreading. HeI think he deserves a shot in the national team as much as anyone else.

B: Yes, the little I’ve watched Shenhua, Cao has definitely been back to the form that saw him receive rave reviews. Maybe he gets a look in at a national team camp, but he’s probably not good enough to break into the national team lineup.

S: I think Cao is a very very creative player, at least on his day. And that’s something China lacks badly. As for whether he could break into the team, I have no idea. Anytime I watch the national team I see guys who play well week in week out in the CSL, turn to shit. Cao deserves a shot, but I think he’s still a way off his potential.

B: The midfield position is one that China has a lot of depth in right now, it’s probably the only position where China can go pretty deep and where Perrin’s decision is very hard.

S: That is very true. And to be honest I don’t think Cao has played THAT well this year, its more that his performance last year was so mediocre. But we shall see what Perrin decides soon enough.

B: He’s made some weird decisions so anything is possible. I think we should move on to how one of Shanghai’s other sides performed over the weekend.

S: Shenxin’s late capitulation to Evergrande? I told you, Shenxin are useless.

B: Well, it’s hard when you’re 10 men going up against 12…

S: Hhaha, I knew you’d say that.

B: Shenxin was already up 1-0 and should have had a penalty in the 75th minute. That it wasn’t called was bad enough, but the referee ludicrously showed the Shenxin player a second yellow for simulation, that was just straight up incompetence…or worse. The right call would have been a penalty, probably even a straight red for Zeng Cheng.

S: You’d expect Evergrande to brush aside Shenxin with ease though, so I don’t think it would be anything other than incompetence. However, refereeing standards in general has fallen this season, there’s no doubt about that. Barely a week goes by without game-changing decisions being wrong.

B: Unfortunately, Guoan has seen a number of them go against them this year, and only one in their favor. It is pretty bad when the referee of the Evergrande-Shenxin match looks like he’ll be suspended for a long time. It seems there have been a lot of these suspensions this season. When the results of the league look like it may be decided by one shite referee, that’s an embarrassment.

S: I couldn’t agree more. The fact the referee faces suspension at least shows that something is being done. I wonder if the foreign referees will be back.

B: I think you almost have to bring them back, but the problem is, they were often just using cheap foreign referees from southeast Asian countries instead of bringing in top referees. Those refs don’t guarantee an improvement, but with all the suspensions, China may not have enough referees…

S: Yeah. As we know dodgy decision-making is something the CSL can ill afford. I say bring in top foreign refs for big games and organize some kind of programs for these refs to pass on their skills and experience to Chinese refs.

B: Exactly, there needs to be more interaction with foreign referees, but they need to be good foreign referees. Events like last weekend, or Darko Matic’s “hand ball” against Jiangsu are just insane.

S: Speaking of which that was an impressive away victory. Strictly speaking as a supporter of the league itself, I’m glad to see a title race of sorts continues.
B: Indeed it was, Guoan’s first come from behind win all year long and on the road. They were the better team all match long but very unlucky, it would have sunk previous sides but they kept fighting back. They kept it up this past weekend with another come from behind win, this time taking down Tianjin.

S: Two very big wins. But Evergrande aren’t dropping points, unfortunately for you. The pressure really is on, pretty exciting stuff I reckon.

B: Well, the unjust nature of the Shenxin result aside, that went beyond expectations, this weekend begins Evergrande’s tough run of things. The difference is six, if R&F can win in the derby this weekend, that would go a long way.

S: It would, and R&F have shown themselves capable of winning that derby a few times in the past.

B: Yes, R&F definitely have the potential. They’ve been playing well lately and they are hoping to secure Asian football for themselves right now. I’ve said all along the title race will come down to these last five matches. I can’t see Guoan winning it without beating Evergrande at Tianhe, but then they need help and I think R&F and/or Shandong are more than capable of providing it.

S: R&F can only throw away Asian qualification now. As for the title race, you’ve got Liaoning away, Shenxin at home and Hangzhou away before you travel to Tianhe. All of those games I’d expect Guoan will fancy 3 points from. I hope that’s the case, because facing Evergrande in the second last game of the season would be a blockbuster fixture to say the least.

B: Indeed, it would put Guoan on one very impressive win streak, but all three of those fixtures should be wins. I think everyone, even some in Guangzhou, are hoping for that match to have significant meaning.

S: I’d imagine so. A lot of football to be played between now and then, let’s hope entertainment is the winner. However, no matter what happens at the top, and let’s face it the race could end this weekend if Guoan lose and Evergrande win, it’s looking seriously tight at the opposite end.

B: Indeed it is, and Harbin has a crucial match in that race this weekend. We’ve talked about Harbin and big matches a lot, but if they lose this weekend, it’s over for them.

S: Yeah, realistically it is. They pulled off a seriously good win away to their nearest club, Changchun in the last round, that’s given them a fighting chance, four points from safety with 5 games left. But the team four points ahead is none other than Aerbin, who frankly are in relegation form.

B: Yeah, my money is on Aerbin going down this year.

S: Yes, being the first team not from Shanghai to lose at home to Shenhua is over two years is a very bad sign indeed.

B: I know we’re hoping otherwise, but even with a win in this one, I can’t see Harbin staying up. If you look at Henan’s last few matches, the ball is in their court, the same can be said for Shenxin, who other than Guoan only face bottom of the table sides in the last five matches.

S: Harbin are up against it no doubt. But whatever happens, I think they have exceeded most people’s expectations by being competitive and still being in the mix at this relatively late stage.

B: They have certainly been an exciting team to watch, especially in the second half of the season. They’ve done themselves proud no matter what.

S: It’s interesting you mention Shenxin, they have gotten sucked into it despite looking fairly safe just a couple of rounds ago.

B: They’ve been down at that end of the table for awhile, some sides (like their opponents this weekend, Hangzhou) that were in danger have put some distance between themselves and the bottom, but Shenxin have remained hovering down there.

S: Yeah a bit of a derby of sorts. Not an easy game to predict. Henan is the key team this weekend, they are away to Tianjin, a side who are in bad form.

B: Even a loss in that one and I still think Henan will be okay, but we’re treated to a couple great matches this weekend once again.

S: Henan have to get the points from somewhere though, they are two off safety, games running out fast.

B: Before they go to Guoan on the final day of the season, they are vs. Liaoning, @Shenxin, and then vs. Hangzhou. As I said, I think the balls in their court, all of those are winnable and against sides in the relegation race (& Hangzhou, who are just outside of it). Then again, we’ve seen more than one side go to Gongti on the last day of the season and get condemned to relegation.

S: Yeah still a lot of permutations, it makes my head hurt a bit.

B: The season may be almost over, but there’s still a lot left to watch over the next month, it’s going to be exciting.

S: Yeah I feel like finally we have something genuinely decent to talk about with the CSL. The outlook from now is good, there’s action at the top and bottom, then we have the Asian Cup in Australia to amuse us over the winter.

B: Well, is there anything else for this week or are we to drink to another good (f’cking hell working) weekend of football?

S: I think that’s all I have to say for now, except to encourage everyone to go wild on Saturday night and be hungover on Sunday as a protest to the ridiculous holiday system.

B: Let’s start early on that! Cheers mate

S: Great call. 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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