The League One season comes to an end this weekend, but there are still two significant matters to be settled at either end of the table. Hebei CFFC will be promoted with a draw at home to Shenzhen FC, but will miss out if they lose and Dalian Aerbin beat Tianjin Songjiang. But the battle between Hebei and Dalian may continue off the field as the latter holds a press conference to make strong allegations against their promotion rivals. At the bottom, Hunan Billows will avoid relegation if they get the same result at home to Harbin Yiteng that Beijing Institute of Technology do away to Jiangxi Liansheng. It may be just that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting.
Hebei CFFC vs Shenzhen FC
Hebei will be strong favourites for promotion when they host Shenzhen knowing they need just a draw to secure a place in 2016’s Super League. The Qinhuangdao side sit two points above Dalian Aerbin, but their superior head-to-head record means they will ascend into the top flight should they finish level on points with the northeast side.
Shenzhen arrive on the back of a run of five games unbeaten, but the hosts have won six in a row and have kept five consecutive clean sheets. On the pitch, there isn’t an awful lot of doubt that Hebei will get the result they need to go up but, off the pitch, the club is facing serious allegations of impropriety coming from the direction of Dalian.
This morning, representatives of Aerbin and the club’s supporters’ association held a press conference in which they stated they had a report containing proof that Hebei had been illegally influencing the outcome of their recent matches. The specific contents of the report have not been made public, but it has been suggested that Hebei may have been giving money to opponents for them to field weakened sides.
The obvious example of this was the late withdrawal of then League One top scorer Cristian Danalache from Xinjiang’s starting line-up to face Hebei two weeks ago, although it’s worth stating that the Urumqi club have said the Romanian decided to miss the game unilaterally and he has since been suspended. Last weekend, Hebei’s opponents Guizhou Zhicheng took off Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo at half-time before withdrawing top scorer Yves Ekwalla Herman 15 minutes from the end while they were 1-0 down.
As it stands, those occurrences are purely circumstantial, but Aerbin claim they have definitive proof and have invited the Chinese Football Association to investigate their findings. It remains to be seen what evidence has been uncovered, but the timing of the press conference, just over 72 hours before the season’s climax, is interesting.
Even if Aerbin don’t have sufficient proof of the wrongdoing, which Hebei have publicly denied, the decision to bring the media’s attention to the matter of teams not fielding full strength sides against CFFC will put a lot pressure on Shenzhen to put out a strong starting XI. Indeed, the southern side now have nothing to play for and their Senegalese strike force of Babacar Gueye and Andre Senghor both missed last weekend’s draw with Jiangxi.
Senghor was suspended but Gueye apparently missed the game because of unpaid wages. There had been rumours going around that Shenzhen were going to leave seven members of their regular starting line-up, including their three foreign players, out of the game against Hebei, but that has been denied by the club.
In fact, Shenzhen replaced their old chairman Ceng Zhenyu with Hong Kong based businessman Deng Junjie earlier in the week. Apparently, the salaries are now paid and all the foreign players will travel to Qinhuangdao to take part in the match.
Even so, Hebei should still be good enough to edge past a full strength Shenzhen side and win promotion to the Super League. But this morning’s developments mean they will, for the time being at least, be celebrating under a cloud and that Shenzhen’s team sheet and performance will come under a great deal of scrutiny. Prediction 2-1
Dalian Aerbin vs Tianjin Songjiang
This game is a must win for Aerbin should they have any hope of achieving a final day promotion, but those in the stadium will have one eye on Qinhuangdao where Hebei CFFC will need to lose at home to Shenzhen FC in order for Dalian to go up. The off field course that this promotion battle has taken is highlighted in the Hebei-Shenzhen preview above, but on the field one would expect Dalian to come out with the victory.
Songjiang are unbeaten in their last five, are the only team to win away to Yanbian Changbaishan this season, and they beat Aerbin at home earlier in the year. However, the club has nothing at stake in Goran Tomic’s final match in charge and are likely to fall to their more motivated opponents. Even if that happens, it’s unlikely to be a day of celebration in Dalian where, if they win and Hebei draw, Aerbin could still come to rue a 2-0 defeat away to CFFC at the beginning of May.
Aerbin won the return fixture 1-0 in August, but the aggregate score of the two matches means Hebei holds the head-to-head tie breaker. It’s also worth noting that should Dalian fail to go up, this game could prove to be a rehersal for a top of the table clash next season when Quanjian’s money will have significantly strengthened the Tianjin side. Prediction 1-0
Jiangxi Liansheng vs Beijing Institute of Tecnology
BIT’s nine year stay in the second tier is in serious peril this weekend as they travel to Jiujiang to take on the already relegated Jiangxi. BIT are level on points with Hunan Billows, but an inferior head-to-head record means they will be relegated if they don’t better the central Chinese side’s result at home to Harbin Yiteng.
In theory, Jiangxi provide the perfect opposition for the “Student Army” having been relegated by a heartbreaking last minute Shenzhen FC equaliser last weekend. Had that goal not gone in, Liansheng would still be fighting for survival in this game. However, events from previous seasons should still motivate the hosts to go for the win here.
Should Liansheng defeat BIT they will leapfrog them and go into fifteenth place. That may not seem like a big deal as the bottom two get relegated but, if any team from the Super League or League One fail to register for the 2016 season, the side finishing in fifteenth will have the right to maintain their place in the second tier.
Clutching at straws, maybe, but at least one side in the relegation zone has beaten the drop that way in two of the last three seasons so the significance of a fifteenth place finish shouldn’t be discounted. With Adi Rocha scoring three in the last two games, Jiangxi will certainly fancy their chances of breaking down the league’s worst defence.
BIT have conceded fifteen more goals than any other side this season at an average of more than two a game. Former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand attended BIT’s home victory against Qingdao Jonoon last weekend and is likely to have found the side’s defending more comparable to his final season at Queen’s Park Rangers than anything he was involved with earlier in his career.
Jiangxi will be expecting to score goals, but the question is whether they will be able to keep them out. With BIT’s Hu Ming looking to beat Hunan’s Li Xiang in the race to be League One’s top Chinese goal scorer, as well as the battle to survive, we could see goals at both ends and a high scoring draw. Whether that is enough to keep BIT up is a different matter. Prediction 2-2
Hunan Billows vs Harbin Yiteng
Hunan’s six years as a League One side are in peril when they host Harbin in Yiyang. Billows need to match Beijing Institute of Technology’s result against Jiangxi Liansheng in order to stay up, but that won’t be easy against the Super League’s fifth placed side.
It has been a disappointing end to the year for Yiteng, but that doesn’t mean they will be pushovers in their final game. There is no doubt that the threat of dropping into League Two will greatly motivate Hunan’s players, but Harbin have proven to be a superior side over the course of the season.
It might not be much of a surprise to see Hunan play above themselves and hang with Harbin, without quite being good enough to get the victory that will guarantee their survival. A draw might still be enough, but there will be plenty of focus on goings on in Jiangxi if claiming three points proves beyond the hosts. Prediction 1-1
Qingdao Jonoon vs Yanbian Changbaishan
Yanbian’s amazing 2015 comes to an end in Qingdao as the club celebrate winning the League One title with a thumping 4-0 victory over Hunan Billows last weekend. Hosts Jonoon will just be desperate for the season to end having picked up only five points from the last 33 available.
In fact, when Jonoon ended a four game Yanbian winning streak earlier in the season by grabbing a scoreless draw in Yanji, many eyed this fixture as a potentially massive one on the final day of the season. Jonoon were third then, but the sides’ fortunes have diverged since and there is little to play for in this one.
However, Jonoon are still in danger of dropping out of the top half of the division just two years after being a Super League team, while Yanbian could secure League One’s highest ever points total in a 30 game season with a win. That would be a remarkable feat considering they garnered the division’s lowest ever points total over a 30 game season just one year ago. In a season of remarkable Yanbian feats, who would bet against them achieving another one on the final day. Prediction 0-2
Beijing BG vs Hohhot Zhongyou
Just a couple of months ago, this fixture had the potential to have a massive say in the end of season promotion shake up. In the event, though, this is simply a meaningless game between two teams unable to keep up with Hebei CFFC and Dalian Aerbin.
But while BG’s form has been hit and miss in recent weeks, Hohhot’s has been downright awful. The Inner Mongolians are winless in six and haven’t scored in their last four matches. This should be a victory for BG but, with the Super League no longer on the cards, it will be somewhat of a hollow one. Prediction 2-0
Wuhan Zall vs Qingdao Hainiu
There is nothing but pride at stake when Wuhan host Hainiu in the final round. Zall could still finish in the top half with a win, but they could be leapfrogged by their opponents and fall to eleventh should they taste defeat.
The hosts could find some motivation in the fact that they missed out on promotion last season because of Hainiu’s very late capitulation to Shijiazhuang Yongchang on the final day. Then again, they might not and Wuhan fans could be treated to a noncompetitive, anti-climactic end to the season. Prediction 1-1
Xinjiang vs Guizhou Zhicheng
Zhicheng make the long trip from Guiyang to Urumqi for a game with nothing at stake. Xinjiang could still grab a top half finish with a win here but, otherwise, neither side is likely to have much motivation for this one.
The hosts will be without the suspended Cristian Danalache who has scored 24 of their 38 goals this season. However, Guizhou have lost seven of their last nine and so Xinjiang, who do have a very good home record, might just scrape an uninspiring win. Prediction 1-0