The title run-in this year has seen more than a few twists and turns, with last minute goals in the final few rounds making for an exiting and unpredictable title race. Last week it was the same again – Guangzhou Evergrande were just seconds away from being crowned CSL 2015 champions before a clearly offside 95th minute equalizer was scored by Shandong’s Wang Yongpo.
The officiating blunder means that the title race goes to the last day, with Shanghai SIPG waiting to capitalize should Guangzhou Evergrande slip up again. WEF takes a look at who can win, who can qualify for the ACL and who can still go down.
Due to their superior head-to-head record against SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande simply need to avoid defeat at Gongti against Beijing Guoan tomorrow. However, Guoan will be desperate to avoid seeing Evergrande clinch the title on their own patch, and also must better the result of Shandong to qualify for next year’s ACL, so really Evergrande could hardly have a more challenging final away match. The Cantonese side don’t have a great record in the capital, having never won in the league there since promotion to the CSL in 2010, and have star defender Zhang Linpeng suspended after his sending off last week against Shandong. Add to this, Guoan are unbeaten at home this season and will be smarting after their shock 4-0 defeat to derby rivals Tianjin. This game has draw written all over it, expect Evergrande to be crowned CSL champions for the fifth time.
SIPG thought they were out of it last week but after the last-gasp Shandong equalizer have a reasonable chance of grasping the title. They must however beat lowly Liaoning at home, who are still not safe from relegation. The home side should have too much firepower however to let the north-east team stop them from getting the three points they need to capitalize on any Guangzhou slip-up.
The ACL places
Guangzhou Evergrande and SIPG are already assured of the top two places. Guoan’s afore mentioned defeat means they slipped behind Shandong into 4th. Shandong themselves slipped up the previous week, losing to Jiangsu Sainty in the CFA cup, so can no longer qualify for the ACL via the cup route and must finish 3rd in the league.
The men from Jinan are currently tied for points with Guoan, but have the superior head-to-head record. They face Shijiazhuang at home tomorrow – a game which on paper they would be favourites to win and WEF expects them to do so. So Beijing Guoan look likely to miss out on ACL qualification for the first time since 2011.
The final relegation spot
Shanghai Shenxin’s fate was sealed quite some time ago and the Yuanshen Stadium side will play their final CSL game for the time being tomorrow against Hangzhou before relegating to next year’s CL1. However, the picture for the 2nd relegation spot is frankly far too complex to offer a breakdown of the permutations.
Due to the fact the CSL goes by head-to-head record for tiebreakers, no fewer than five teams could go down on the final day. The teams in contention are ranked as follows:
Guangzhou R&F 31 points
Liaoning Whowin 31 points
Tianjin Teda 30 points
Hangzhou Greentown 30 points
Guizhou Renhe 28 points
Since none of these teams play each other tomorrow, it is possible that all five could finish on 31 points. If this happens, or if more than two teams finish on the same points, a mini-league will be calculated using all the results of the teams involved and they worst of the lot will be relegated.
If Guizhou fail to beat Changchun Yatai at home then all other results will be irrelevant to the relegation equazion. However Guizhou will fancy their chances against an already-safe mid-table slide. Tianjin are away to nothing-to-play-for Chongqing, and R&F face a similar situation at Henan Jianye, so this pair’s chances of staying up are good. Unfortunately, Liaoning are away to SIPG so look to be in the biggest danger of paying the price if Guizhou get a victory.
All in all, the dust from the relegation battle won’t settle quickly if Guizhou win.
Jiangsu Sainty will host Shanghai Shenhua at home in the first leg of the final on November 22, after China’s next round of World Cup qualifiers. The second leg will take place a week later on November 29 at Shenhua’s Hongkou Stadium. The winner of the cup will qualify for the ACL next year. Ironically these two sides face each other in their final league game tomorrow – the only match not involving at least one team with something to play for.
Picture: in the middle of expressing his disappointment during a post-match interview that his club’s title challenge is over, SIPG forward Wu Lei reacts to the celebration of his own fans as news of Shandong’s late equalizer reaches Shanghai Stadium.