League One Preview and Round-up: Hebei win thriller 4-3, Harbin to host Hohhot in massive game and Songjiang grab more headlines with Luxemburgo appointment
Thanks to China’s World Cup qualifying matches, last week didn’t feature a full round of League One games, but we were treated to 13 goals in the two matches that were played. Hebei CFFC came back to get a crucial win over Beijing Institute of Technology who then lost to Guizhou Zhicheng to further deepen their relegation woes. This week’s big clash is between Harbin Yiteng and Hohhot Zhongyou who continue to chase a place in the Super League. While off the field, it’s Tianjin Songjiang who are attracting attention with the announcement of a new Brazilian manager and some statements of serious intent.
Re-arranged matches round-up
Beijing Institute of Technology 3-4 Hebei CFFC
Last weekend’s only League One match was one of the best of the season as Hebei fought from 3-1 down to claim a vital victory in their quest for promotion. A 78th minute header from Edu proved to be the decisive blow at the end of a flurry which saw six goals in sixteen second half minutes.
An early mistake from Hebei captain Du Wei set the tone for an unpredictable game as the former China international completely mis-kicked a clearance and allowed the ball to run through to Hu Ming. Du then clumsily fouled Hu, allowing Andres Marquez the chance to give BIT an eighth minute lead from the penalty spot.
For the remainder of the first half, BIT looked the better side as their three man central defense and three man midfield stifled Hebei’s 4-3-1-2 formation. With Hebei head coach Li Tie away in his role as national team assistant, team leader Gao Yang and assistant manager Zheng Bin looked to have turned things around at half-time when Ibba Laajab equalised seven minutes after the break.
The Norwegian created a little bit of space for himself before firing in a fine effort from 20 yards. Hebei’s parity only lasted five minutes, though, as Meng Yang met Abel Nazario’s cross with a rocket of a 12 yard volley that gave Hebei goalkeeper Yang Cheng absolutely no chance.
In the 64th minute, BIT looked to have sealed the upset victory with another fine goal. Maureen Franco scored his first goal since arriving in Beijing in the summer when he swept a long range left-footed free-kick into the top corner of Yang Cheng’s goal.
But, after five scoreless minutes, Zhu Haiwei turned the game on its head when he bagged two goals in less than 90 seconds. The first was a low 20-yard strike which took a fortunate deflection off of Abel Nazario and the second was was a header from a Xu Xiaolong cross.
That set the stage for Edu’s winner and the Brazilian should have added another in stoppage time when through on goal, but he dallied too long on the ball, allowing Wang Wei to block the eventual shot with his face. And, with nearly the last kick of the game, Hebei full back Liao Junjian had the ball in the BIT net, but his effort was incorrectly ruled out for offside, denying the match a fitting claim to be League One’s highest scoring of the season.
Guizhou Zhicheng 4-2 Beijing Institute of Technology
An Yves Ekalla Herman hat-trick helped push Zhicheng further to safety and heaped more misery on BIT as their final game in hand was squandered. Herman struck in the 19th, 64th and 68th minutes with the second goal being a penalty.
A spot kick from BIT’s Andres Marquez had initially levelled things up in the 33rd minute, but Herman’s double midway through the second half guaranteed a Zhicheng victory despite the teams swapping late goals. The result takes Zhicheng four points clear of the relegation zone and keeps BIT in the bottom two.
Round 25 Preview
Harbin Yiteng vs Hohhot Zhongyou
For the second round in a row, Hohhot face a massive hurdle in their surprising quest for promotion. Last round’s agonising defeat at home to Yanbian Changbaishan brought the Inner Mongolians’ eight game unbeaten run to an end and means they absolutely have to get a result against Harbin.
With Harbin also trying to recover from a defeat, albeit a far more surprising one against Qingdao Hainiu, the stage is set for an exciting clash which both sides will be trying desperately to win. To add to the occasion, Hohhot goalkeeper Han Fangteng and striker Dori will both be returning to the club where they played their football last season.
However, while Dori was Harbin’s top scorer during their solitary season in the top flight, it is another Brazilian attacker who has really shined for Hohhot in recent weeks. After a slow start to the year, William Paulista has equalled Dori’s season tally of ten by bagging six goals in his last four games and his quest to extend that tally will be aided by the suspension of Harbin’s Australian defensive midfielder Adam Hughes.
With Harbin unbeaten at home in 2015, Hohhot will need both Brazilians to be firing on all cylinders if they are to claim the three points they need to keep themselves in the promotion hunt. Harbin can’t really afford to drop points either, but the determination of each side to get a win may lead them to cancel each other out in a result that will only serve to make their rivals happy. Prediction 1-1
Yanbian Changbaishan vs Tianjin Songjiang
Yanbian may be the runaway league leaders but, with little action on the pitch, it is Songjiang who have once again been grabbing the League One headlines thanks to their big spending owners. Towards the end of last week, Quanjian Natural Medicine announced that veteran Brazilian manager Vandrelei Luxemburgo has signed a mammoth contract and will take charge of the club at the end of the season.
After a largely successful managerial career at various jobs in his native Brazil, including a Copa America victory with the national team in 1999, Luxemburgo was offered the chance to manage Real Madrid in 2005, but didn’t last a year with the Spanish giants. Since then, the 63-year-old’s career seems to have largely been in decline, but that hasn’t stopped Songjiang from offering him a rolling one year contract with a staggering salary of at least €7.3million and possibly €10million depending on which source you believe.
Luxemburgo has just been sacked by Cruzeiro after picking up one point from his final six games and, although Brazilian clubs are notoriously quick to pull the trigger on their managers, one wonders if his monstrous salary is justified on any basis other than the fact that Brazil and Real Madrid are on his CV. Seeing Radomir Antic failing at Hebei CFFC seems not to have deterred Quanjian and the announcement of Luxemburgo’s appointment was preceded by the news that Li Weifeng has joined Songjiang as vice chairman.
The 38-year-old former centre back left Tianjin TEDA in the summer after a storied, if sometimes controversial, career, and will apparently be largely responsible for the recruitment of domestic players. In that regard, there has been plenty of bluster coming from Quanjian in regards to the signing of high quality Chinese players with the word being that Sun Ke will link up with the club next summer and that Guangzhou R&F forward Jiang Ning is being courted.
Should all this come to fruition (and it’s important to remember that Quanjian have a habit of jumping the gun with announcements, as they showed by touting the original signing of Sun Ke to TEDA before everything had gone through) it means that current Songjiang manager Goran Tomic will be looking for work at the end of a second successive season. Despite being 2014’s League One manager of the year, the Croatian was let go by Beijing Enterprises when they took over Beijing Baxy, and the same is about to happen here.
Tomic took over Songjiang in May when they were bottom of the table with just four points and has gone on to almost secure their survival. The key word, though, is almost as Songjiang need at least one victory from their final six games to guarantee their safety, which makes on wonder why Quanjian didn’t wait until that was assured before signing up Luxemburgo.
While Tomic has done very well to turn Songjiang’s doomed looking season around, the club have won just one of their last five games and failed to score in all of the other matches over that period. Starting with this trip to Yanbian, four of their last six games are against teams in the top five and battling for promotion, and so survival, while likely, is far from guaranteed.
Given Quanjian’s renewed vigour to buy success, it’s appropriate that they should be facing a club who have achieved it this season despite their relatively modest means. Yanbian probably need two wins at the most to achieve their Super League dream, and after showing their fighting spirit with a stoppage time winner in Hohhot last round, they look very likely to get one of those here. Prediction 3-0
Hebei CFFC vs Hunan Billows
Hebei will be looking to ride the momentum from their comeback victory over Beijing Institute of Technology as they look to secure another crucial win against a resurgent Hunan attack. In the four games since Zikica Taveski took the reins in Hunan, the club have averaged 2.5 goals a game compared to 0.8 per game over the rest of the season.
Defensively, they continue to struggle, though, and that won’t be helped by the suspension of goalkeeper Dong Jianhong who has had an excellent 2015. Hunan have improved enough to give themselves a three point cushion from the bottom two, but they are facing a side that seems to be hitting its stride having just secured consecutive wins for the first time since June.
Li Tie will be back in the Hebei dugout after assisting Alain Perrin in China’s 3-0 win over the Maldives, and he will be expecting his side to score a few goals in this one. This has got the potential to be a high scoring affair that Hebei should just be good enough to win. Prediction 3-2
Beijing Institute of Technology vs Dalian Aerbin
While Dalian were relaxing and training during a week off, BIT were conceding four times in back to back games and failing to climb out of the relegation zone. The “Student Army” host Dalian in their third game in a week and it’s hard to see them getting a result here.
This match pits the leagues best defence, which hasn’t conceded in seven games, against its worst. BIT have already shipped over 50 goals this season and its hard to see their back line keeping out an attack that will be bolstered by the return of Mathias Ranegie from suspension.
That being said, Dalian have never scored more than twice during their current six game winning streak, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect a flood of goals. It would be a major surprise if BIT get something from this game, but an attack that’s the league’s seventh best may at least be able to to add to Dalian’s goals against column for the first time in almost two months. Prediction 1-2
Shenzhen FC vs Beijing BG
With the military parade leading to the postponement of BG’s round 24 match with Guizhou Zhicheng, the capital city club may be a little rusty after three weeks off. The good news is that they are travelling to take on a Shenzhen side whose season looks increasingly doomed with each passing week.
The southerners have won just one game in their last seventeen and have tasted victory just three times all season. A high volume of draws has kept their head above water as they continue to be reliant on the failures of Beijing Institute of Technology and Jiangxi Liansheng below them.
BG winger Godfred Karikari provides an interesting side note to this game as he returns to his old club after scoring for Hong Kong against Qatar on Tuesday. As well as taking on the team he left last summer, the former Henan Jianye attacker will also be playing in the city where his country just achieved a famous World Cup qualifying draw against China.
But, while 0-0 was seen as an excellent result for Karikari and his teammates last Thursday, anything other than a win in Shenzhen will be a disappointment this time around. Given the gap between these two sides this season, it looks likely that the Ghanaian born player will be leaving Shenzhen in high spirits for the second time in just over a week. Prediction 0-2
Guizhou Zhicheng vs Wuhan Zall
Zhicheng will be looking to climb even closer to safety when they host Wuhan this weekend. Prior to Wednesday’s 4-2 triumph over Beijing Institute of Technology, Zhicheng had gone six without a win but could be seven points above the relegation zone should they be successful in this outing.
Last time these sides met, an 85th minute header from Wuhan’s Liu Shangkun was the only goal of the game, but the Hubei side are much changed since then as head coach Zheng Xiong has switched to a crop of very young players. Wuhan have little to play for and Zhicheng may be sufficiently galvanised by Wednesday’s win to sneak a narrow victory. Prediction 1-0
Jiangxi Liansheng vs Qingdao Jonoon
Jiangxi host Jonoon in what is a must win game for the division’s bottom side. The League Two champions have won just one of their last eleven games and they are running out of opportunities to get the results needed to avoid an immediate return to the third tier.
The good news for Jiangxi is that Jonoon are also in poor form. A run two wins in ten has seen Jonoon plummet from second to mid-table and their Brazilian midfielder Rogerinho is suspended after being sent off against Xinjiang in the last round. Jiangxi have the potential to get something out of this game but, with their own important midfielder Wang Jianwen also suspended, that may only be a point. Prediction 1-1
Xinjiang vs Qingdao Hainiu
There’s not much to play for in Urumqi with both Xinjiang and Hainiu firmly entrenched in mid-table. Hainiu will be on a high after last their surprising 1-0 victory over Harbin Yiteng in the last round, but Xinjiang have been very strong at home all season and toppled Hainiu’s city rivals Jonoon last weekend.
Significantly, though, Xinjiang will be without suspended League One top scorer Cristian Danalache who picked up his fourth booking of the season against former club Qingdao Jonoon in the last round. These clubs have met three times in their short histories and Hainiu have won each clash 1-0. But, given Xinjiang’s excellent home form this season, they may be able to turn the tide, even without Danalache. Prediction 1-0
Author: Jamie McIlroy
Based in China for five years, Jamie has been exploring tiny little third tier Hubei cities without football teams or decent internet connections, but is now a regular at China League One side Wuhan Zall.
A keen football afficionado, he regularly takes in the Chinese Super League, enjoying matches in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing.
Jamie is also a keen observer of the fortunes of the Chinese National side.