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Pub Talk: Massive

After a very exciting last round in the CSL which set up an absolute blockbuster between Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande, the boys are back. The biggest CSL clash in god knows how long dominates the agenda as one might expect. Who will win? Who will be celebrating? Will it live up to the hype? Hype-man Ultra and Bcheng chew it over. Elsewhere, the relegation battle hots up as the excitement-o-meter threatens to go kaput. It’s the end of the season, all kinds of shenanigans and strange things can happen out there and in the pub. But it’s really all about one big game. If you have words you consider worthy of uttering, the pubsters would love to hear them. Join us, this week, in the pub, right now.

S: Good evening B. The Pub is looking inviting as ever tonight.

B: This is sure to be one of the most interesting pubs we’ve had, as we’re looking at one of the most interesting (and important) CSL weekends since this site began.

S: That is no exaggeration. I”m going to have to be careful not to fall off my barstool, so much exciting news to discuss.

B: Let’s get right into it then…

S: Yeah. So last week, what drama. Let’s start with Guoan’s game, you made the trip I believe? Give us a fans-eye view of the action that unfolded down there.

B: It was a very pessimistic situation at halftime, Hangzhou scored on their one decent counter attack and from then on parked the bus, Guoan struggled to break them down and couldn’t get a call from the referee. They were able to equalize and then needed an extra time penalty to win it, which sent the away end batshit crazy.

S: I have to say it was a rather dodgy penalty, but overall I’m not complaining, I didn’t want to see the league denied the chance to have its biggest game in years when your lot take on Evergrande this weekend.

B: I’m not denying it was a bit soft, though there was an instance earlier that easily could have been a penalty and, well, that’s how things go, that’s why some sides are at the top of the table.

S: Yeah I think these things even out or at least I hope so, Guoan went there and did what they had to do so fair enough. So a lot of late goals, especially in Jinan, shipping 3 in the last ten minutes to R&F, I just can’t get over how monumentally bad Shandong’s defence is in relation to the amount invested in it.

B: That’s true, but hell, Evergrande gave up 3 in 15 minutes to R&F as well, it’s easy to get too relaxed and then get stunned. The big implication is that R&F have now more or less guaranteed that they’ll finish third. However that might not matter as Shandong advanced to the CFA Cup Final last night with another big win over Qingdao.

S: Yeah that result was never in any doubt, Shandong are strong favourites for the cup. At the time of drinking we don’t know the Shenhua result against Sainty tonight, but since they are 2-0 down from the first leg, I don’t think anyone expects them to make it to the final. I certainly don’t.

B: Right, it’s looking pretty clear that the final’s going to be Sainty and Shandong.

S: I think so, and having been on an away trip myself last weekend to Nanjing, Sainty don’t look too clever these days, Shandongs a strong bet for the final.

B: Yes, but we’ll get to that later. While on the subject of late goals, I’m sure you were unhappy to see Shenxin find a late winner against Henan.

S: I certainly was. I watched that game live, it was of suprisingly high quality. Both teams had chances, Henan probably had the better of them. But once again, Shenxin are pulling away from danger when it matters and look set to be a waste of CSL space again next year.

B: Yes, Henan are pretty much screwed. They face Hangzhou this weekend and then Guoan next weekend, so they absolutely need a win but Shenxin holds the tiebreaker. Henan need to win this weekend to get over Aerbin.

S: Yeah they are under huge pressure. Actually here at we prepared this guide to explain what can happen. Henan won’t mathematically be relegated this weekend no matter what, but yeah realistically they are friar tucked if they don’t grab 3 points on Sunday.

B: Right now it looks like it’s really coming down to Henan or Dalian, if I had to bet on it, I think we’ll have another season with Dalian in the CSL (if they can find an investor).

S: I think so. Somehow I can’t see Dalian going down either. It is great though that, along with the cup, we still have 13 teams with something to play for at this late stage.

B: Agree, it’s been relatively rare the past few years. Well, with that, there’s kind of a big match this weekend…

S: There is. All I can say is that the thought crossed my mind not to go to the Shenhua game so I could take in Evergrande v Guoan instead.

B: I’m somewhat sad that it appears I’ll be watching it from Beijing, but always, I’m very excited about this match, but hoping for Guoan to score first or else we’ll be in for a long day.  What it really comes down to is that Guoan must come away with only one result, a victory, and I can see Lippi parking the bus.

S: I can’t really imagine Lippi doing that with Evergrande at home, but then again that is what they would do in cynical Italian football.

B: Right, I’m worried we’ll see Italian anti-football. Not straight out, but if Guangzhou gets a goal or if it’s tied going into the second half, I think that’s what we have to expect.

S: I’d like to see an early Guoan goal too to ensure an open match. Evergrande have the talent the beat any team at home, let’s hope they play to win the match otherwise it will be as you said.

B: At home isn’t exactly where Evergrande like to be this year, two of their three losses (and two of the three draws) came at home.

S: Yeah I certainly wouldn’t rule out Guoan’s chances. But my prediction is a very close game and a draw, probably 1-1, I’m afraid.

B: I think a draw is a safe bet, that tends to be how these things go, but my heart says Guoan is a team of destiny this year and that they’ll win this one.

S: Yeah I think a lot of Guoan fans will be thinking the same. Which players do you think are going to be the ones who will make the difference on Sunday?

B: I wouldn’t look beyond the ones who’ve been key up to this point, for Guoan it’s gotta be Dejan and Erton, for Evergrande it will be Elkeson and Yu Hanchao.

S: Dejan has lived up to expectations for Guoan this second half of the season, I’ve been impressed. Elkeson broke the scoring record, so there’s a lot of talent on display. For me in this big CSL games it’s often some kind of lapse which is punished and leads to a goal, whoever can hold their concentration stands at a huge advantage. But you could say that about any game really. If this was the EPL we were talking about, they’d be creaming their pants and salivating like excited dogs.

B: Earlier in the year at Gongti, Guoan jumped on them early. When Guoan has done well at Tianhe, they’ve scored an early goal. I think that’s important in this one. Beijing has yet to win at Tianhe, they will need a bit of luck, they’ll need to catch a break, and it’s going to be hard because they aren’t fully healthy, but no matter what, this is exciting to talk about and let’s hope for an open, exciting match. This is what it all comes down to really.

S: Yeah. Unfortunately I won’t see the game (watching Shenhua at the same time), but I’m sure I’ll be kept abreast of developments. I know at home they read out half-time scores at other matches being played at the same time, they should do that sort of thing here when there’s other games on.

B: Yeah, it’s unfortunate that they don’t. What’s worse, it’s often hard to get a signal inside the stadium to know what’s going on elsewhere.

S: That’s just what I was thinking. Seems there’s too many people in one place trying to get a signal. I wonder will be se Wi-fi at Chinese stadiums?

B: I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon.

S: Me neither. So we’ve got the big match covered, and I think it’s one of the biggest CSL matches I can remember. What else lurks in the shadow of this game?

B: We move from the top to the bottom with Dalian-Liaoning and Henan-Hangzhou.

S: Equally difficult to call those games. Although I’m glad at least one team in both fixtures really needs a win. I’m always rather worried around this time of year if results or favours will be exchanged.

B: Indeed, there are some concerns there. Then again, none of these four sides are mathematically safe yet, so I expect we’ll see real football.

S: That’s what I’m thinking. As we said earlier though, I think Henan really are up against it. If Henan’s relegation does come to pass, would this be the first time the two promoted teams have gone straight back down again? I think it could be.

B: I’d have to do a little research, but certainly in the past few years we haven’t seen that.

S: We’ve talked a lot about Harbin before, but it’s worth covering again, it’s such a pity Harbin are going down, as things stand I believe they have the highest average attendance ourside of Guoan and Evergrande.

B: Their fans really came out and supported them in impressive fashion. It’s not only that, they were feisty and rarely blown out, I think something like 10 of their losses were by one goal.

S: Whenever I saw them, they rarely looked like a side rooted to the bottom for the whole season. I’d like to see them come back up. They’re being replaced by Chongqing, who we haven’t seen in the CSL for a few years now, and either Shijiazhuang or Wuhan, probably the former.

B: I’d like to see Shijiazhuang, it would mean another first time side in the top flight and would create another great “derby” for Beijing.

S: I’d go along with that, new territory for the CSL is exactly what is needed. I believe Shijiazhuang gets decent crowds of 10,000 or so, that would surely rise alot if they made it to the CSL.

B: Yeah, I’m certainly hoping we see them in the top flight next year, I could do without Wuhan returning.

S: Another team on your growing list of disliked clubs and individuals, haha.

B: Haha, yes, well, it’s easy to dislike a side that just decides to quit the league when things don’t go their way.

S: I think the new Wuhan is a different club though, at least legally.

B: Whatever, it’s all the same.

S: That’s a bit unkind to our friends in Hubei province, don’t you think? At least they have more fans than Shenxin. Not that that is difficult of course.

B: Anyways, here’s hoping we won’t see them in the top flight next year.

S: So this weekend, all games are kicking off at the same time, that’s something which used to be standard a long time ago in ancient football worlds. It’s slightly odd to see it nowadays.

B: Yes, we get that for the final two weekends here, it makes things all the more exciting (at least if you can find a way to get the scores).

S: It’s great. I remember in previous years the final rounds had half-time intervals of half-an-hour. An incredibly bizarre measure, I don’t suppose you’ve heard any plans for such a thing this year?

B: No, I don’t think we have to worry about that this weekend.

S: That’s good to know. Well, anything else we should cover?

B: That’s all I have, my mind is clearly focused on the battle at Tianhe, what about you?

S: I think that clash of the titans is without any doubt whatsoever the best show in town this weekend – absolutely everyone’s attention will be on proceedings at Tianhe and quite rightly so.

B: Let’s hope it lives up to all the hype!

S: There’s going to be a lot of tension at least, I think it’s going to be a great occasion.

B: I can drink to that.

S: Me too. 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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