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Pub Talk: Military parade impacts CSL, Shanghai Derby look back

A busy week once again in the pub. Shanghai Ultra is still recovering after a raucous pair of Shanghai Derby’s back-to-back, whilst Bcheng regrets an event of enormous pomposity which prevents him watching Guoan for a while. What else lies in store apart from that? Read on to find out.

BC: We’re back in the pub after another brief break, plenty to talk about as always with the CSL, ACL and national side going on. I think we should start off with the ACL action from the past few nights….

SU: Yes, here were are beers in hand again. ACL – yep, a solid win for Evergrande, looks like they will most likely make it to the semis.

BC: Yeah, they absolutely dominated that match, Kashiwa came back with a late goal, but I can’t see how it’s going to be enough, that match was so one sided.

SU: I think so. Evergrande will be glad to get a two goal advantage and score 3 away goals, since the return leg is just a few days after their top of the table showdown versus Shanghai International Port Group, they may be somewhat out of steam after that match.

BC: I wonder if that went into Scolari’s thinking, having his side go all out in this one and then having the cover to rest players in the 2nd leg.

SU: I think he may well have planned ahead that way. Regardless the first leg has gone Evergrande’s way, hard to seem them failing to make the semi, but still they will have to avoid complacency especially if they win the SIPG game, they’d be vulnerable to taking it too easy against Kashiwa in the return leg.

BC: Complacency is always an issue, but I think Evergrande is light years better than Kashiwa (and probably whoever they’ll take on in the semis). On the West Asian side of the table, there was a similar quarterfinal blowout, I know we’ve talked about it before but one has to wonder if things would be more interesting if things were mixed up a little more. I get the rationale for not doing it that way, but I think it takes away a bit of the randomness of football.

SU: Yeah. I am firmly against keeping the east and west halves apart until the final. That change was a political move and not in the interests of having the best team in the confederation win. It just makes the competition even more repetitive than it already is, since the Eastern teams can’t play anyone they haven’t already played a dozen times before until the final.

BC: I actually think it makes it easier for the best team from the East and West to reach the finals. I’ve shown previously that there has been relative balance in the semifinals most years. As for creating “rivalries” and making it easier for fans, in theory it does that, Evergrande’s away end was impressive, but I don’t think that holds up for all the sides.

SU: It makes it easier for the best team from east and west to get to the final, but those are probably not the two best teams in the whole confederation.

BC: Indeed that’s possible….well, let’s move closer to home and I guess we kinda have to start with the Shanghai Derby, part two. I’m sure you have a lot to say, so go ahead….

SU: There’s a lot of things I may like to say, but, I think it’s better to look at the positives. I think the derby has developed faster than anyone may have hoped, and its a big plus for Chinese football. The cup game in particular was an all-time classic, the league game was never going to quite as good, but it was no disappointment as a footballing spectacle.

BC: Right, it was definitely an entertaining match, after how emotional and back-and-forth the Cup match was, no surprise that SIPG was able to edge out Shenhua in the end the second time around.

SU: I think SIPG have a better all-round team than Shenhua, although their winning goal was lucky, Shenhua didn’t do enough to win. That they gave up a lead against their city rivals at home three times over two matches, plus the lack of goals without Ba in the second game, shows the team seriously lacks defensive strength and cutting edge, so, not a surprise, no.

BC: For those hoping the league match would trip up SIPG, they were left disappointed as they’re still in the driver’s seat with six matches to go, though they have a few more tough matches coming up, there will certainly be more discussions on that in the coming weeks.

SU: SIPG have played really well for most of the season. They’re pretty much a model club as far as Chinese football goes, starting from a youth academy, then founding a club in the 3rd tier and working their way up. It is a huge pity Xu Genbao didn’t insist the club retain it’s name when he sold it to SIPG, I assume that would have lowered the price he got. Nevertheless this doesn’t detract from their achievement. So I think most neutrals will be absolutely rooting for them, and quite rightly so.

BC: Yes, good points there, it was surprising that of China’s U19 side for an upcoming competition, only four CSL sides were represented, with one of them being SIPG (the others: Beijing, Hangzhou, and Guizhou).

SU: I saw that as well, I was surprised to see Evergrande not be represented there.

BC: Indeed…so I talked about SIPG having the potential to slip up in their upcoming matches, well, one of the sides they will be taking on already has. We’ve talked a lot about how traveling to Zhengzhou is not easy, well Shandong found that out the hard way, losing 1-0 and seriously hurting their title chances. In conversations I had before the match, it seemed a lot of people were already writing off Shandong’s chances, I had a slightly more positive view of them, but I guess that was wrong.

SU: I was surprised by that result, but in hindsight I shouldn’t have been. Shandong have a clear habit of losing “easier” games, and it’s debatable like you say that Zhengzhou is an easy place to go at the best of times. Henan are doing relatively well this year. Shandong are still in it. But in our run-in piece on WEF this week, they are tipped to be the first team to drop out of the race.

BC: Yes, well Guoan was the only top side that didn’t play due to preparations for the “Commemoration of 70th Anniversary of Victory of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War.” Wow, if you thought Shanghai International Ports Group is a mouthful, try that one on for size….

SU: Yes, an unnecessarily long name and an unnecessary interruption to the CSL schedule. It’s ironic that the government is making football a priority and then cancels one of the leading side’s games for reasons which could have been easily avoided.

BC: That’s what happens when you use the side’s stadium as a staging ground for tanks and other military vehicles, totally shutting down large swaths of the city. It is what it is, but as a Guoan fan, I have to be concerned about how nearly a month without a competitive match is going to hurt the side.

SU: The preparations for the parade just show that, no matter how much China appears to have developed on the outside, on the inside it’s very much still living in the past, commandeering spaces and inconveniencing ordinary Beijingers’ lives when it doesn’t have to be like that. I agree it is not helping Guoan and that kind of interruption is something no club should have to deal with.

BC: And while things at the top stay hot, at the bottom, it is equally competitive, as seven sides are all battling to avoid being the one at the bottom (Shenxin is already down, I’m sure that brings a smile to your face). We also have a hotly contested battle in China League One, after the two Shanghai derbies and all this, can you remember a better year for footie in China?

SU: I have to agree it’s been a really great year. The relegation battle, there’s really too many permutations at this point, for the second place anyway, to say that much. Shenxin do appear doomed indeed. What a pity.

BC: One thing that could influence the high of this year for some would be the national team failing to beat Hong Kong on the day of Commemoration of the blah blah I’m not going through that again. Don’t need to be afraid of Maldives, especially now that the match has been made a home match for China, but Hong Kong could surprise us.

SU: The Hong Kong game indeed has banana skin written all over it. But I can’t really see Hong Kong doing better than a draw, but, it’s that type of game where something unexpected could happen. HK will be feeling wound-up as their fans had to provide a mainland telephone number to buy a ticket. I think we all know what kind of HK fans have mainland telephone numbers….

BC: It’s very odd to place the match in Shenzhen and then make Hong Kong fans jump through hoops to get tickets. As for the match, yes, a draw would be a win for HK, I don’t see it happening but football can always surprise. I definitely hope China comes away with two wins as I don’t want to see the match sully the attitudes of casual fans toward the Chinese league.

SU: It is odd, frankly it looks like an attempt to prevent HK fans who might boo the Chinese national anthem from getting their hands on briefs. All said and done though, I don’t see China failing to get through this preliminary qualifying group at all. So they should just focus on that.

BC: Anything else mate? This seems to be one of the easiest pub sessions we’ve ever had, I guess it’s easy to be all footballed out after the emotions of the derby matches.

SU: Yeah I have to admit I am all out of juice after those two huge derbies. With the CSL in a break again, there’s nothing urgent on the agenda. Like you say the HK game will be very interesting but overall China can’t fail to qualify no matter what.

BC: Alright mate, cheers!

SU: Cheers, again, until next time man.

You got anything to add to that? Fire away in the comments below.

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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