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Pub Talk: Pump up the jam

The business end of the season is here and your intrepid drinking duo return to offer their musings on the state of play. With three games left, there’s a lot to be decided in the league and the long-ish season is drawing to close bringing up all manner of talking points. An ongoing championship race, the ACL qualifiers and incredible tightness down below are offering stimulation this week. Foreign refs make an appearance in the pub again, and Ultra is lost for words at all the excitment flying around. Meanwhile China’s recent progress in the international break is on the agenda, along with Alain Perrin – Bcheng is nevertheless unimpressed. How are things shaping up for Australia? Find out by reading. Join in the discussion in the comments section if you can be arsed. Thanks!

Bcheng: It’s nitty gritty time now, with only three games left in the Chinese Super League season and there’s a lot going on, but of course we also have the national team to talk about, it’s a busy week, eh?

Shanghai Ultra: It certainly has, and China surprised us with some unexpectedly good results.

BC: Yes, the two wins over Thailand (3-0) and Paraguay (2-1) have helped with hope.

S: We’ve seen it before though… nice wins in friendlies but then China falling on their face when the next competitive game comes along.

BC: Right, I don’t want to put too much into the results, and honestly both of these wins shouldn’t be all that “unexpected”. I think China has a long way to go still, though there were some bright loins, especially Zhang Chengdong, who looks to be an automatic in Australia.

S: I think a win against Paraguay was definitely not expected, they are a very good South American side albeit they didn’t make it to the last world cup. However, positive signs hopefully Perrin is starting to instill self-belief in the players because that is what is needed. Confidence is what it is all about, China can get out of their group only if they have at least some.

BC: I really don’t want to read too much into these friendlies, this is still a team that is way behind where they need to be for Australia and the ludicrous nature of China’s national team right now is that if Perrin’s looking at a guy like Han Peng, he could just as easily call Xu Yunlong (at 35) back into the lineup, Xu would be as good as whatever center backs Perrin has.

S: I can’t disagree, I think the results so far are encouraging but nothing more. Han Peng is a player I have admired for many years, and always found his absence from the squad in recent years puzzling especially since he is suited to the lone striker role which China always play regardless of who is coach. But now he is 31 and with no goals this season to his name, he recall is probably one of the most bizarre China squad inclusions I can ever remember.

BC: That’s really saying something….

S: It is isn’t it? But I think its pretty much spot on. We can take something positive from it though, it suggests Perrin is able to pick who he wants, I don’t think Han Peng played for the national side for several years before now, the last two seasons he’s done not much but before that he was definitely worth including, I mean, China’s not exactly spoilt for choice for strikers. I just rather suspected Han Peng’s exclusion at that time didn’t seem to be for footballing reasons. I’m just speculating really, but regardless Perrin seems to be able to pick who he likes.

BC: Either that or it’s back to pay-to-play….

S: Yes all sorts of things could be read into it. So perhaps we shouldn’t go any futher. Anyways, I share your reservations about Perrin, but his results make him pretty bulletproof for now. Regardless, he’s going to be China’s coach in the Asian Cup in a few months, that he is getting something right at the moment is good and should be built upon in the remaining friendlies before the big continental tourney in January.

BC: The next international break sees them take on New Zealand and Honduras, interestingly, those are the two hardest matches they have scheduled during their Asian Cup preparation, I’ll talk about how “bulletproof” Perrin is after that.

S: You can, but even if China get pumped in those friendlies, which could happen, he’ll still be coach at the Asian Cup. Despite the limitations of the squad, I don’t see why they can’t get past the first round if they are motivated. What’s your beef with Perrin exactly?

BC: I think he’s not a very good manager, his results so far make that obvious. I don’t want to play what could have been if the CFA would have avoided fucking up hiring Lippi, but I agree with you, getting out of the group stage is very possible, I just don’t think Perrin’s capable of leading them out of it.

S: Perrin wasn’t an inspiring choice by any means. But look at what he has to work with. I think he could at least be better than Camacho thought that of course isn’t saying much. The best we can hope for is he fine-tunes the team in the remaiing friendlies and gets out of the group in Aus.

BC: Better than Camacho definitely isn’t saying much, what’s worse, he lacks the experience and “success” Camacho had before coming to the job. Anyways, let’s not rehash his hiring, he’s here through the Asian Cup. What he has to work with is arguably one of China’s most exciting group of players since the 2002 side.

S: I don’t think this crop of players is that exciting really, but I would love to be proved wrong.

BC: Haha, I love how our optimism is placed in very different spots…Anyways, I think we’ve had enough of that.

S: Yeah that’s a very interesting point. So, back to domestic affairs, I feel finally I can fully indluge your love of talking about the various races, so, fire away!

BC: I’m afraid this weekend doesn’t really offer that much stimulation when it comes to the title race. Guoan travel away to Hangzhou, while Evergrande are away to Guizhou. Neither of these matches are the easiest, but I just don’t see the top sides slipping up this weekend. Guizhou certainly isn’t as dangerous or as strong at home as we would have expected a few months back.

S: True but its pressure time, especially for Guoan, the players must desperate to avoid personally witnessing the trophy being handed to Evergrande when they visit Guangzhou next week. Because that’s what could happen if Guoan don’t win and Evergrande do. Hey I could be a mind-games type football manager, with that kind of analysis.

BC: I think there’s obvious pressure on both sides right now. Everyone’s mind will be on that big clash next weekend, so perhaps we’ll see one side not focused enough and slip up this weekend.

S: It’s really at the time of the season when anything could happen. Personally I’d like to see Guoan win and Guangzhou Evergrande lose, to set up a blockbuster fixture the week after. One for the neutrals!

BC: That would be ideal from my standpoint, but even if they both win, next week is still huge.

S: It will. I expect both sides to win again this weekend though, no matter what happens it’s going to be exciting this weekend at least.

BC: The biggest excitement for neutrals isn’t even in Hangzhou or Guiyang, you have a match with potential ACL implications in Shandong and two real relegation battles. That’s not to mention Saturday night’s Jiangsu-Shanghai “derby”.

S: Shandong v Guangzhou R&F is a big game. But personally I’m more interested in the top and bottom. R&F can only really throw away ACL qualification, plus Shandong still have a very good chance through the CFA cup.

BC: True, Shandong already have one foot in the CFA Cup final and that looks like their easiest route to qualifying, but I can see them winning this one. At the bottom Shenxin-Henan is a real decider, but Changchun-Liaoning is equally intriguing.

S: The bottom is just too tight to call, I am really not sure what to say.

BC: I can’t disagree, you look at the bottom and honestly right now you have six sides competing not to be that team that ends up in 15th.

S: Changchun and Hangzhou are 5 points clear so they’d really need to shit the bed to end up getting relegated with only three games left, but, it’s just so tough to call. I can only hope for a clean fight.

BC: Not so much though…I think we both agree Hangzhou is likely to lose this weekend, and Liaoning go head-to-head against Changchun, it’s not that hard to see how those sides could end up in the mix.

S: My brain is hurting from the permutations, with three games left still a lot can still happen. Medicority has never been so exciting!

BC: Mediocrity to be sure…This is going to be a lot of fun, and I agree, all we can hope for is a clean finish. To that end, the CSL has decided to bring in foreign referees for some of the matches, this weekend we’ll see a Japanese referee in charge of Henan-Shenxin

S: Despite our reservations about the competance of foreign refs, I think it’s a wise move from the CSL and for once I applaud them.

BC: I just wonder why it’s not more widespread. I was originally thinking they’d be in charge of any match with title or relegation implications, now it just seems they’ll be there for head-to-heads.

S: I think they probably want to develop Chinese refs which is laudable. But tackling any potential shenanigans has to over-ride that, and the end of the season is prime-time for nudging and winking around here.

BC: Speaking of refereeing, just looking at this week’s referees, five of the referees are from Beijing. This glut of refereeing ability elsewhere around the country means Guoan is stuck with the absolute idiot Guo Baolong, scary….

S: I have to confess I am not familiar with the identities of any Chinese referees at all. Am I missing anything?

BC: Guo Baolong is one of those names that tend to make fans instantly shudder when they see that he’s in charge of their match.

S: Are there Chinese refs who dont make fans shudder?

BC: Haha, good point, though some are obviously worse than others.

S: I think I’ve referenced Gianluca Vialli’s book in the pub before, but he made a very interesting point about referees in different footballing cultures. He said that in the UK, referees might be abused in the game but their integrity is basically never questioned, and they are anonymous bar a few exceptions, as the fans and media aren’t bothered about them since they basically trust them. Morinho told Vialli that when he came to the UK he was dissapointed the refree’s weren’t the focus in the media because he couldn’t use the media to pressure them in the run up to games. Whereas in Italy Vialli said referees were personally scrutinized by fans and the media to a huge extent. No prizes which country China is more like…

BC: Hmm…that’s interesting, slightly different from my impressions of England, but that’s not important. I do think that for the most part the referees tend to get ignored here, with a few exceptions, until after the match. Or more importantly, there tends to be constant pressure on the referee during the match, which more often than not leads to influencing later calls.

S: I think that happens in most places if not all.

BC: True enough, but of course it’s a little different with the team huddles around the referee that we find all too often here.

S: Yeah we’ve spoken about this before too many times – because we keep seeing it almost every other weekend. Referees really need to just get their cards out, players would soon learn swarming around the ref like spoiled kids was not ok.

BC: Indeed…anything else on your mind this weekend?

S: I think that’s about it for this week, next week we will certainly have plenty to talk about again.

BC: Yes, looking forward to it, only three weeks to go, can’t believe one more season’s almost in the books, here’s to a great finish!

S: The excitement has arrived, cheers to that!

BC: 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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