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Pub Talk: CFA Cup mysteries, Manchester United’s no-show and this weekend’s action

It’s hot hot hot outside the pub! You’re dynamic pair use the hot weather as an excuse to cool off with some nice beer. Quite a few topics covered this week, just dive right in and join the fray!

BCheng: Welcome back to the pub, Shanghai Ultra, in the weeks we’ve been away, there’s been so much going on. The closing of the transfer window, storms in Beijing which led to the cancelling of a “major” international match, a round or two of the CSL and the CFA Cup quarterfinals. Wow! Where do you want to begin?

Shanghai Ultra: Hello there, yes, indeed, quite a selection of topics since we last met, unfortunately real life kept us away from the pub when so much was going on. Let’s start with the Man U and Man City fiasco, what a disaster that was.

BC: It certainly was. I’m not going to assume that I know much about grass other than it should be green and the stuff at the Bird’s Nest certainly wasn’t. There are a lot of ways to go on this but the fact is, the Bird’s Nest is a total waste & matches shouldn’t be held there. The pitch has been an issue almost every time, though never this bad.

SU: Yes. It was all so avoidable. There was no need to play it at the Elephant’s Nest, in fact there is not much need for the Elephant’s Nest itself anymore. If they can’t even get it right for such a relatively big international football event, then what’s the point of it?

BC: The fact is, by my count only 9 matches have been played there in the 8 years since the Olympics. Interestingly 2 of those featured the Brazilian national team & zero of those featured the Chinese national side. There was no issue with the pitch at Gongti Tuesday night, in fact it was in great shape, unfortunately because of the CFA Cup, there was no way to move the match there. I think it’s all how its sold, the Bird’s Nest is seen as such a beautiful venue, the pride of China because of the 2008 Olympics, but Gongti isn’t a dump. It has history, something rare in Chinese venues as it was built in 1959 as one of the 10 major projects to celebrate the PRC’s 10th anniversary. It’s hosted the Asian Games and football during the Olympics, if marketed properly it is just as good. The difference is its pitch is arguably the best in the CSL.

SU: I think Gongti would be a far more appropriate venue for the match, after all it is a football stadium, perhaps the conversation to make it football-only was a little half-assed but I think the place has history and character. Unlike the Bird’s Nest which may look nice, but that’s it.

BC: My issue is that this is being used to take shots at football in China, when it is really an isolated incident down to a really shite organizer (which later proved how shite they were by identifying City as United on a billboard in Shenzhen).

SU: That was a ridiculous mistake. I think the blame lies between the organizer and the management of the Birds Nest. I just feel playable grass shouldn’t be something which needs to be specially arranged, particularly for a supposedly top-class venue.

BC: That’s the thing. It isn’t a top class venue, its used as a “museum” for 355-360 days a year and then hosts events/concerts the remaining 5-10 days. Since its not used to holding events, there is zero organization when one comes around. It’s a nightmare.

SU: I think you described it pretty accurately, however, its portrayed very differently in reality and certainly overseas eyes see it as somewhere which held an Olympic Games and ostensibly somewhere easily capable of holding the biggest events.

BC: Right, I’ve seen so much inaccurate reporting on it. Well, enough of that, it was a boring friendly anyways, time to move on to some actual footie that we care about.

SU: Yes. So, CFA cup just this midweek. Guoan crash out, a certain unpopular to some individual scoring a nice goal to pretty much kill the tie and seal a semi for Guangzhou Evergrande.

BC: I don’t have much against Paulinho other than he played for Tottenham. Though I guess you mean Gao Lin, yeah, he scored 3 over the two legs and while it was frustrating, it isn’t a surprise. Guoan looked good for the first half hour or so, but it just seemed that Guangzhou’s first goal put them in total disarray and then their attacks at the end were too little, too late. It wasn’t the head scratching performance that Zaccheroni’s side offered up earlier in the year, but there were a few oddities. Guoan only played with 3 foreigners, they have 2 Asian foreigners but neither were used in the starting XI. Also, 5 of the 7 players on the subs bench were defensive players. I guess the hope was to poach a goal and then hold it at 1-0, but that was always going to be hard against Evergrande.

SU: Hah hah. At least Guoan made a game of it, unlike some of the sides in the other cup games, for instance Quanjian who didn’t even bother trying to beat Shenhua.

BC: I don’t blame Quanjian, for them getting into the top flight is all that matters and its a tough fight, they don’t want to risk it.

SU: I think its pathetic, they can’t handle an extra couple of games?

BC: It’s not that they can or they can’t, its more why risk it? This isn’t something that only happens in China. It wasn’t only Quanjian, Hebei was also far more focused on the league than the cup, which is sort of a surprise because the cup may have offered them an easier path into the ACL than the league will.

SU: They could win the CFA cup. I think every team has a duty to do its best to win every game which the fans are paying to see.

BC: It’s a nice notion and it would be great if we lived in that world, but sadly, that’s far off from the reality in football. Honestly, as a Quanjian fan, I’d be unhappy if my club seriously went all out to beat Shenhua.

SU: I think its just another lame manifestation of modern football, the prioritization of some competitions over the other. But I think having one strong domestic cup competition is good for any domestic football setup, I could agree if it was the old CSL league cup which thankfully was short-lived, but, maybe it’s a culture difference, I want to see my team play to win or why the hell are they even playing?

BC: But there have to be some priorities. Taken to the extreme you have fans who were angry when Guoan played a bunch of youth players against Barcelona and Bayern Munich because it wasn’t in line with the club’s history of being “world beaters”. I think, ideally, a team would go out to win every match, but there has to be some priorities and I think for Quanjian, in the middle of a string of critical matches, there’s a need to avoid injuries to top players and focus on what matters most for them and that’s going up.

SU: That’s a fair point about the friendly games, I should say, I want to see my team take competitive games seriously every time. There are times when priorities are necessary, for example Shenhua rested players against Quanjian, but the were playing their 7th game in one month. I do understand the need to focus on promotion, but I think professional teams should be able to handle it, after all there’s only 30 league games in the CL1 and CSL, even if they are not very evenly spread out.

BC: Well, you should be happy it at least allowed Shenhua to cruise into the semifinals once again where they’ll face Jiangsu Suning in a rematch of last year’s final. Jiangsu-Henan was the only draw that really had excitement as it was tied after 180 minutes and went into extra time.

SU: Yes, plus given the fact teams are afraid of playing too many games, really makes the CFAs decision to add an extra leg to the quarter finals even more baffling. So does the decision to take away direct to penalties which I only discovered last night when I saw the tie with Jiangsu and Henan.

BC: Yeah, it was a shock to me too. I guess if you’re going to play 180 minutes, what’s another 30 instead of going straight to penalties. I think the two legged quarterfinals was pointless and hopefully they’ll consider going back to just one, that might have produced some more interesting matches.

SU: Yeah I think two legged games favour the stronger side. Really, the CFA is going out of its way to remove as much suspense as possible from the competition

BC: And yet we’ve got two great semifinals to look forward to.

SU: Yes these are great games. Shenhua will have played Jiangsu for the 12th time in 3 years , and we see what looks to me as a quite tasty Guangzhou Derby

BC: Speaking of Shenhua and Jiangsu, the two sides face off in an interesting league match this weekend.

SU: They are. It’s an eagerly awaited match, and its still a derby of sorts, certainly for Jiangsu , they bring the biggest away showing to Hongkou every year, which is no wonder as Shenhua tend to struggle against them. This Saturdays game looks good, both teams are in good shape and good form, I’m expecting a great match.

BC: I think there are a number of clubs (possibly even Guoan among them, though one of their make up matches is against Evergrande) who might still be viewing 3rd place and that ACL spot as a possibility. Shenhua has to be among them right now

SU: Well, Shenhua did it the hard way as always, in the last three games beating Shanghai International Port Group and Shandong Luneng away from home, but putting in a predictably pish performance away to Shijiazhuang, and predictably, Mao Jianqing scored yet again. Does that guy ever score against any other team?

BC: His consistency against Shenhua is amazing, unfortunately he only scored once for Beijing against you lot. It’s getting legitimately interesting as there are 5 or 6 teams that look like they might have a shot, but I still think it will come down to SIPG and Hebei.

SU: I can’t see Shenhua getting into the ACL to be honest. At home they can take on anyone, their home record this year is championship-winning standard, but unfortunately their away record would make a relegation threatened side blush, and I don’t believe one fairly lucky away win versus a Shandong that is at the wrong end of the table tells us much. I tend to agree that Hebei and Shanghai International Port Group are going for 3rd, and Jiangsu are not guaranteed to finish second either it has to be said.

BC: That’s where we disagree, I think 1 and 2 are pretty much set, it’s going to take a lot to overturn their 5 point lead with only 10 left to play, neither Hebei or SIPG have shown me that they are capable of putting together that kind of run. I do agree that while Shenhua is within striking distance, their road form is abysmal. Sides even further back like Henan and R&F also don’t look strong enough to make up the 5 points they need to. Guoan has played three less than everyone, of those matches one is home to Yanbian, the other away to Liaoning, both very winnable and would put them at 30 points, but the key is the other match is away to Evergrande and unless they find the champions resting their players, I can’t see them pulling themselves into the fight.

SU: To be honest, we talk about who is going to finish where in the table most weeks, but theres only one week where that counts and that’s the last one of the season, things will change and teams will move up and down, its fair to say Evergrande have it sown up, but apart from that, its going to change a lot, not much I can add for now on that.

BC: Haha, and with that is there anything else on your mind this week?

SU: Well, any more games this weekend catch your fancy or deserve a preview of sorts?

BC: I actually think this is one of the more interesting rounds, Henan hosts Evergrande and that’s a match that always looks like it has the potential for an upset. There’s the Hebei derby, though those two sides are at opposite ends of the table right now. SIPG against R&F also has the potential to be interesting.

SU: Actually speaking of Hebei province, Chongqing had a virtual sell-out crowd against Shijiazhuang last weekend, a lot of bad blood between those sides wasn’t it interesting to see such an enthusiastic crowd for two sides in the lower half of the table.

BC: The “bad blood” between those two sides stems from an odd attack that took place earlier in the year on Chongqing’s traveling support. It was indeed amazing to see Chongqing’s turnout for the match.

SU: They are a team which has had a very strong following historically, especially considering the chronic underachievement of the team. Good to see. Anyway yes, back to the weekend, The Hebei derby will also be interesting, and Shanghai International Port Group against R&F I think is worthy as R&F’s new Israeli striker seems to have hit the ground running. Plus Sven of course used to be at R&F, it was just a couple of years back R&F were in the ACL conversation.

BC: Personal animus aside, R&F’s manager deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with a very average side. Their new striker has been amazing, I’d be concerned if he keeps it up one of the more liberal spending sides will pick him up in the offseason. If R&F truly have ACL aspirations, this is their chance to declare it.

SU: I’m not sure what R&Fs position is as far as buying and selling goes, they certainly took their foot of the gas in the past year or so there. But its a game they will be looking to win, one of the matches of the round I think in terms of interest.

BC: Yeah, its one I’ll certainly be watching. The heat and potential rain in Guangzhou also always a factor, should be a fun weekend of footie.

SU: It’s been very hot over much of China, certainly in Shanghai it’s been sweaty balls time, I’ll be stepping out on Saturday hoping the temperature has cooled a little.

BC: Well, I’ve heard beer can help with that, is it time to finish these?

SU: I think it is, good drinking!

BC: Cheers mate!

SU: Cheers!

What do you think? Join in the chant 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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