“The six pointer” is a well-worn football cliché but when Shanghai East Asia and Guangzhou R&F go head-to-head on Sunday night the CSL’s tie-breaker rules effectively make it an “eight point game.” Expect a gripping contest as both sides try to put themselves in prime position to claim the last Asian Champions League spot.
Neither Shanghai East Asia nor Guangzhou R&F have qualified for the ACL before but both go into the final six games of the season with a lead over the chasing pair of Shandong and Guizhou so have given themselves a real chance of competing internationally next season, even if it is through ACL pre-qualifying. Only three points separate the two sides so Sunday night’s clash in Shanghai is a chance for East Asia to draw level and, because of the way the league table works, leapfrog R&F into third place.
Showcasing the ‘football with Chinese characteristics’ element of the CSL, in the event that two teams finish level on points the first tie-breaker is not goal difference, unlike in most of the rest of the world, but instead is head-to-head points, head-to-head goal difference and finally head-to-head goals scored. Only if teams are level on all these categories does the more usual tie-breaker of season long goal difference come into play.
With the first game between the sides finishing 2-2 at Yuexiushan in May, another draw would mean final rankings determined by goal difference if both teams are level on points come the first weekend in November. However, a win for either side on Sunday would effectively be worth four points as the winner of the game would have an advantage in the tie break because of their better head-to-head record.
History cannot provide much of a guide to the outcome on Sunday as the teams have only met three times in the CSL: a bore-draw at Yuexiushan in the dying days of the Sergio Farias era; a rare away win for pre-2014 vintage R&F in Shanghai last year which otherwise notable for the one Eddy Bosnar free-kick of the year that found the back of the net; and an action packed 2-2 draw in Guangzhou earlier this year where both sides will have felt aggrieved at not claiming the three points.
This time around the blue and whites will be happy that top-scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah returned from injury and scored last week but less happy that Shanghai’s Tobias Hysen, who is third in the CSL scoring charts, will be going up against Xu Bo at centre back as Zhang Yokun’s usual partner Jang Hyun-Soo is away representing South Korea in the East Asian Games. The Cantonese are also missing the pace of Chang Feiya out wide as he is with the China squad. East Asia may have fallen to their first home defeat of the season on Saturday but that it took the visit of reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande to do so says a lot about how tough Sunday’s game will be.
Regardless of whether the game finishes as a ‘four point’ win or not, the race for third place is far from over as both teams face Shandong and Guizhou, each with an outside hope of third, in a challenging end to the season that is sure to see each side drop points. Stay tuned to for all the thrills and spills as the 2014 CSL season enters its final rounds.