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CSL penultimate round explained: Who can be champs & who can go down?

The tightest Chinese Super League in many years enters its penultimate round this weekend, with 11 of the 16 teams still having something to play for with just two matches left.

In an effort to ensure sporting integrity, all eight CSL games will kick off at the same time this Sunday afternoon – 15.35 –  and will be officiated by foreign referees in a proactive anti-corruption measure.

CSL Round 28 – Sunday October 26

Guangzhou Evergrande –  Beijing Guoan

Guizhou Renhe – Shandong Luneng

Henan Jianye – Hangzhou Greentown

Guangzhou R&F – Harbin Yiteng

Changchun Yatai – Shanghai Shenxin

Shanghai East Asia – Jiangsu Sainty

Dalian Aerbin – Liaoning Whowin

Shanghai Shenhua – Tianjin Teda

Setting the scene:

Last week saw the first outcome of the year decided – Harbin Yiteng were relegated after a long and brave fight which saw the Dongbei side keep touch with their relegation rivals after having to play their first seven games of the season on the road. Despite being rooted to the foot of the table all year, Harbin’s average crowd of over 26,000 meant only table toppers Gangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Guoan have attracted higher average crowds than the Heilongjiang province side (see main pic Harbin fan’s tifo) so far this season. A stunning achievement for a shoestring budget team in its debut CSL season and ample reward for the club’s decision not to move to another city.

It was at the top of the table where the biggest conclusion of the season was almost reached.  Guangzhou Evergrande were just seconds away from claiming their fourth successive championship last weekend, but a controversial last minute penalty in Hangzhou meant Beijing Guoan won 2-1 and got the three points they needed to keep pace with the Cantonese giants.

And in two other games which saw several late goals which had huge implications, Guangzhou R&F scored 3 goals in the last ten minutes to draw 3-3 away to Shandong Luneng in a clash between two teams looking to qualify for the ACL. Meanwhile in Jinshan, Shanghai Shenxin scored in the last minute to beat Henan Jianye 2-1 and leave the Zhengzhou side stuck in 2nd bottom.

Penultimate round permutations:

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the CSL tie-breaker system is a little complicated. It works like this:

1. Head-to-head points. 2. Head-to-head goal difference. 3. Head-to-head goals scored. 4. Goal difference. 5. Goals scored. 6. Disciplinary record

This means that in the penultimate CSL round on Sunday:

Guangzhou Evergrande will win the league if:

Beijing Guoan fail to beat Evergrande.

Guangzhou R&F will qualify for the ACL if:

They beat Harbin OR if Shandong fail to beat Guizhou.

Complicated relegation fight will be decided on final day

The final relegation place will go right down to the wire. Currently Henan Jianye are second bottom on 26 points, two points behind Dalian Aerbin on 28 points and three points off Shanghai Shenxin and Liaoning on 29 points.

Henan’s head-to-head record against both Dalian and Liaoning is equal, so the tiebreaker will move to goal difference which is still subject to change in the last game. Add to that, Dalian and Liaoning play each other this weekend, meaning at least one of Henan’s rival strugglers will still be catchable via goal difference on the last day regardless of Henan’s own result this Sunday.

Changchun Yatai and Hangzhou Greentown are further ahead on 31 points and are not out of danger yet, but if Hangzhou avoids defeat this weekend they will make themselves safe, and at least a draw for Changchun will realistically speaking take them out of the relegation picture also.

Bonus ACL cup place

Shandong, Jiangsu, Shenhua and potentially second division Qingdao Hainiu are all cup semi-finalists and play the second leg tomorrow night. The winner of the cup qualifies for the ACL.


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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