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Mushekwi Survives Battering to Batter Shenzhen and Refs in the Spotlight: China League One – Round 8

Two huge games meant that round 8 was always going to be an eventful of League One action, but a remarkable performance from Dalian Yifang’s Nyasha Mushekwi and some outrageous refereeing overshadowed everything else. There’s still plenty of other things to discuss, though, with a new manager in Lijiang, a fortunate win in Meizhou and Hanghou Greentown heaping misery on Gao Hongbo among the other points of discussion.

Mushekwi’s Beasting of Shenzhen Shines a Light on Sven’s Problems

There were two huge games this week, but the biggest was no doubt in Dalian where Yifang took on Shenzhen FC in a clash of second vs third that will ultimately be remembered as the Nyasha Mushekwi show. The big Zimbabwean forward did it all this week where he scored two powerful headers, survived a potentially leg breaking tackle and missed a penalty as his side emerged 2-1 winners to top the table a quarter of the way through the season.

With Qingdao Huanghai and Beijing Renhe playing out a controversial 0-0 draw 24 hours before, both these sides knew that victory in this Sunday afternoon clash would send them top of the table, but it became clear within four minutes whose day it was going to be as Mushekwi out-jumped and out-muscled Cui Min to head in a Shan Pengfei cross. Cui is among the most physically imposing domestic centre backs in all of China and he could do little to prevent Mushekwi heading past poorly positioned goalkeeper Guan Zhen.

China League One – Round 8

Dalian Yifang 2
Mushekwi 4′, 68′

Shenzhen FC 1 
Preciado 87′ (pen)

Attendance: 22,691

It soon became clear that one of Shenzhen’s primary tactics was to rough up Dalian’s star striker as much as possible, but things really got out of hand in the 62nd minute when centre-back Wang Dalong launched a sickening studs-up, airborne lunge towards the prone leg of Mushekwi in order to prevent a counter-attack. It’s possible that Wang was tentatively going for the ball, but he was so late and his challenge so reckless that it came as a shock to everybody when the card referee Tang Shunqi produced was only a yellow one.

Replays showed Mushekwi’s leg bending at a horrifying angle, but he was soon back on his feet and had powered home a second header from a Cui Ming’an free kick within just three minutes of it looking like his season might be over. Mushekwi celebrated by immediately breaking out into a limp and asking to be subbed off, but Yifang manager Juan Ramon Lopez Caro was having none of it and kept his biggest asset on the field to continue terrorizing Shenzhen’s defence.

There was still time for more refereeing controversy in the last ten minutes as Tang gave Harold Preciado the chance to score his fourth penalty of the season when a ball brushed Shan Pengfei’s naturally positioned arm amidst an aerial challenge. And he returned the favour to Yifang a few minutes later when Aboubakar Oumarou mis-kicked the ball into his own arm. Guan Zhen was on hand to deny Mushekwi the chance to complete his deserved hat-trick from the penalty spot, though.

The day was all about Mushekwi and league leaders Yifang, but the result badly exposes some of Shenzhen’s vulnerabilities. Veteran playmaker Xu Liang missed the game through injury, and Shenzhen had nobody to create anything in his absence. More worrying was the defence where Sven Goran Erickson took the strange step of starting midfielder Zhang Jiaqi at centre-back in a move which failed badly. Shenzhen have now taken just one point from their last three games and, given the fact that their five game winning streak to start the season came courtesy of wins over four of the bottom five and a then shambolic Dalian Transcendence, the Swede needs to turn things around soon to prove that his strong start wasn’t just a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Farcical Refereeing Overshadows Intriguing Huanghai-Renhe Clash

Aside from the Dalian Yifang-Shenzhen clash, the round’s other big match-up pitted Qingdao Huanghai against Beijing Renhe in what proved to be a largely intriguing match, despite the 0-0 scoreline. With Renhe happy to counter-attack and Huanghai turning their possession passing game up to the max, it was a classic match formula played out in high quality by China League One standards. Huanghai were the better side overall, but Renhe played their part in a match which resembled a very low budget version of Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid.

China League One – Round 8

Qingdao Huanghai 0 

Beijing Renhe 0

Attendance: 22,691

Unfortunately, instead of being on a decent football match between two good sides, all the post-match focus was on referee Guo Hao who allowed Renhe midfielder Chen Jie to stay on the field, despite handing him his second booking in the 88th minute. Guo’s difficult afternoon started in the 35th minute when he failed to give Huanghai a penalty after goalkeeper Zhang Lie ploughed into Bari Mamatil without getting near the airborne ball. In the 56th minute, Guo then booked Chen Jie and and Dorde Rakic during a penalty area tussle during a corner, before giving Chen his second yellow for a late tackle on Mamatil.

Chen looked resigned to his fate as Guo took the red from his pocket, but things took a strange turn when Renhe players surrounded the referee and apparently convinced him that their teammate hadn’t been booked earlier. It seems as though that was corraborated by the fourth official, allowing Chen to play out the rest of the game, but the CFA’s official suspension list for the next round has the Renhe midfielder listed as having a one game ban after picking up two yellow cards.

The incident came less than an hour before the CFA announced a seven game ban for Dalian Yifang’s Zhu Ting who was guilty of aggressively spitting on the ground just before his post-match handshake with the officials at the end of last week’s match with Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Zhu does have a bad rap sheet of past misdemeanors, but the rationale for his harsh punishment seemed to be that matchday officials must be respected. Of course, that sentiment is correct, but when mistakes like this are made, it is little wonder players become frustrated with the men who used to be in black.

As well as this debacle, round 8 featured Wang Dalong only getting a yellow card mentioned above, a bizarre triple sending off in Zhejiang and at least three very questionable penalty awards. Going on about referees and the CFA can be pretty tedious, which is why this article generally refrains from doing so, but what happened in Qingdao and elsewhere this week, illustrates that, at best, some officials lack basic standards of competence which is to the direct detriment of the game.

Meizhou Ride Their Luck to Score Big Win Over Shenxin

Shanghai Shenxin lost their undefeated record in Meizhou this week, in what should go down as an upset despite Hakka’s generally strong home record. Shenxin’s bright start to the season has been counterbalanced by Meizhou’s poor one, which saw them sack manager Vjekoslav Lokica after just six games. This is Meizhou’s second win of the season, and could help them turn things around, but we shouldn’t read too much in to what was ultimately a very fortunate victory.

China League One – Round 8

Meizhou Hakka 2
Ouyang Xue 4′, Chen Jianlong 45+2

Shanghai Shenxin 1 
Ji Jun 90+3

Attendance: 5,565

The opener came after just four minutes when Shenxin goalkeeper Guo Wei made a rare mistake by passing the ball directly to Ouyang Xue who was easily able to fire it into the net. The second came in first half stoppage time when Chen Jianlong’s overhit cross lobbed Guo and nestled into the far corner of the net. On the balance of play, Shenxin deserved to at least be level at the half, and they suffered a further setback after the interval when Brazilian attacker Cleiton Silva was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. Shenxin kept knocking at the door, but Meizhou centre back Gibril Sankoh was like a one man gatekeeper and the visitors were only able to break it down when Ji Jun headed home in the 93rd minute. It was too little, too late for Shenxin but, if it doesn’t have too much of psychological effect, this could prove to be a minor setback in what is shaping up to be a promising season.

Yiteng’s Controversial Victory Shows They are Starting to Feel at Home Ahead of Zhejiang Derby

Zhejiang Yiteng picked up their fourth home victory in five matches with a tainted 3-0 triumph over Nei Mongol Zhongyou. Things got ugly early in this one as referee Jin Jingyuan awarded Zhejiang a mysterious fourth minute penalty at the end of goal line scramble. The melee was triggered when Hao Qiang’s shot struck the underside of the bar and appeared to cross the line before a follow up also led to an appeal that it had gone in as Zhongyou players, including Dori, who lay prone on the line, tried to hack clear. When the referee blew his whistle, it initially appeared as though he had given a goal, until it became clear he was pointing to the penalty spot.

China League One – Round 8

Zhejiang Yiteng 3 
Guto 4′ (pen), Castelen 65′, Piao Taoyu 78′

Hohhot Zhongyou 0

Attendance: 3,956

Quite what the penalty was given for is a bit of a mystery, with the best guess being a possible Dori handball (though the official may also have been reverting back to the rules of childhood park football where a disputed goal would often be settled by a penalty). Guto converted from the spot, and things went from bad to worse for the referee at the end of the first half when the play acting antics of the perennially despicable Hao Qiang caused mayhem.

We’ve highlighted Hao’s theartrics in the past and this time he went to ground as Dori tried to pull him back during an argument over his heavy tackle. Apparently aware of the centre back’s past, both Yin Lu and Quan Lei steamed in to express their displeasure at the still grounded Hao, with the latter seeming to kick out at him. After the players were pulled apart, the referee flashed red cards at Quan, Yin and Hao, meaning that the rest of the game would be played out with just 19 men on the field.

Despite his protests, Quan was bang to rights and may be looking at a long ban, but it’s really unclear why Yin and Hao were given their marching orders – although there’s a strong argument to say that the playacting of the latter could only be stamped out by the issuing of red cards and long bans.

Early in the second half, the referee seemed to be evening things up by giving a penalty to Zhongyou following a Malik Mane dive. Dori missed the ensuing spot kick and, despite Zhongyou putting in a solid effort, they were overstretched allowing Romeo Castelen and Piao Taoyu to run up the score.

The win was not without controversy, but it means that Yiteng have now taken 13 points from five home games this season and is the perfect preparation for their first ever Zhejiang derby with Hangzhou Greentown next week. Last year was Yiteng’s season in the province after relocating from Harbin and they struggled to settle by being the League One team in 2016 whose home record was worse than their away one. This year it’s a different story, though, and, given Yiteng’s penchant for winding up the opposition, next week’s keenly anticipated match in Shaoxing should be a feisty affair.

Things Go from Bad to Worse for Lijiang, Despite New Manager

We reported last week how Lijiang were having a very tough start to their debut season in League One, and so it was no surprise that Korean manager Lim Jong-heon resigned ahead of their mid-week CFA Cup defeat to Shanghai Shenhua. His replacement is Zhang Biao, who oversaw the club’s promotion last year, but there were no signs of things getting any better as the club fell to defeat in Xinjiang.

China League One – Round 8

Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard 1 Gueye 57′

Yunnan Lijiang 0

Attendance: 3,125

Indeed, a 1-0 defeat in Urumqi to second half goal from Babacar Gueye is nothing to be ashamed of, but the bigger story is another poor performance and two injuries which could be crucial if they turn out to be serious. Before the game even kicked off, Brazilian centre back Johnny was ruled out after injuring himself in the warm-up and compatriot Kaio limped off in the first half to significantly weaken Lijiang’s attack.

The man who took Lijiang to the League Two championship last season may be able to inspire his cash-strapped side to greater things, but he will need to get them going soon. A repeat of last year’s final against Baoding Yingli Yitong this coming weekend looks like the perfect place to start, but their is little cause for optimism at the moment.

Cui Kai Saves Transcendence from Missing out on Top Half

Dalian Transcendence’s remarkable transformation continued this week as they won away to Baoding Yingli Yitong in order to climb into the top half of the League One table. Since shipping nine goals in the process of losing their first two games of the year, Rusmir Cviko’s men have now picked up 13 points from their last six – a record only bested by second place Beijing Renhe over the same period.

China League One – Round 8

Baoding Yingli Yitong 1
Sun Jiangshan 36′

Dalian Transcendence 2
Wang Hongyou 33′ (pen), 44′

Attendance: 4,905

As has been the pattern during this purple patch, Transcendence’s victory came in a tight, hard-fought game but this week they were especially reliant on goalkeeper Cui Kai to give them the win over a Baoding side who continue to play well without getting the results they deserve. All the goals came in a 12 minute first half flurry which began and finished with Wang Hongyou. The centre back scored a penalty after Baoding’s U23 right-back Yang Zexiang felled Jailton Paraiba and Wang struck a sweet volley just before half time directly from a Hu Zhaojun corner.

Sandwiched in between Wang’s goals was an equaliser from Sun Jiangshan who put the ball in the net at the second time of asking after his close range header had been spectacularly clawed away by Cui. That had been the 30-year-old’s third save of the match, and he would go on to make four more vital stops before the full-time whistle blew to give Transcendence yet another narrow victory and take them to heights which seemed improbable just two months ago.

Hangzhou Overcome Problems to Win and Make Light of BG’s Excuses

Last week, we highlighted some of the major problems Gao Hongbo faces after taking charge of Beijing BG, but Hangzhou Greentown have been facing bigger issues and handed the former China national team boss his second straight defeat this week. Gao may be without injured striker Leke James, but opposite number Hong Myung-bo started this weekend’s game without a single foreign player available and with four U-20 players in his first XI.

Last weekend, Denilson Gabionetta joined Matthew Spiranovic and Anselmo Ramon in the ranks of Hangzhou’s injured foreign player list and Hong continues to follow owner Song Weiping’s policy of giving as many U-20 players as possible a chance in the first team. None of that stopped Hangzhou from earning their first away victory of the season, though, as the visitors found themselves 3-0 up inside the first 40 minutes thanks to goals from Zang Yifeng, Chen Xiao and Gao Huaze. Liu Yi pulled one back for BG just two minutes after Gao struck Hangzhou’s third, but BG were unable to make their constant pressure pay in the second half and had to settle for a stoppage time thunderbolt from Wang Jianwen as nothing more than a consolation.

China League One – Round 8

Beijing BG 2
Liu Yi 42′, Wang Jianwen 90+4′

Hangzhou Greentown 3
Zang Yifeng 10′, Chen Xiao 31′, Gao Huaze 40′

Attendance: 4,586

The absence of James and poor performances of Rubin Okotie and Cheik Tiote are no doubt having an effect on BG, but Hangzhou’s win makes a mockery of those excuses. Gao Hongbo is well known for his tinkering and strange team selections, but he largely chose the most logical side available this week with the exception of inexperienced centre-back Zhang Junzhe who he chose to start at right-back. This meant Hangzhou left-winger Zang Yifeng had a particularly fruitful afternoon, but the entire front four of him, Luo Jing, Cheng Jin and Gao Huaze all performed extremely well in the first half. Meanwhile, 20-year-old defensive midfield Wu Wei seems to be showing significant signs of progress every week.

In contrast, the only real silver-lining in BG’s cloud-strewn sky is the goal scoring form of midfielder Wang Jianwen who is now the league’s top Chinese marksman with four. That wouldn’t be so notable if BG weren’t the only team in the league this season yet to have a foreign goal scorer. but Hangzhou managed just fine this week and Gao Hongbo needs to draw a lesson from them and get the best out of what he’s got.

Patience of Wuhan Fans May Already Be Running Out

Wuhan Zall’s disappointing start to the season continued this week as they suffered their first home defeat of the year courtesy of Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Jacob Mulenga took less than four minutes to score the only goal of the game when he pounced on Wang Peng’s poorly defended long throw and the hosts offered little in the way of a fightback. Foreign attackers Jean Evrad Kouassi, Sam Johnson and Marcelo Moreno may all have been having off days, but the biggest problem was in a midfield that seemed to be struggling to string two passes together.

As the first half wore on, the 12,000+ in attendance grew increasingly impatient and things hist a fever pitch early in the second period when Moreno hit the post with a penalty. The spot kick had been harshly awarded when Johnson’s header struck Zheng Kaimu’s hand at very close range, and Wuhan’s failure to take advantage cost them dearly.

China League One – Round 8

Wuhan Zall 0 

Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 1 
Mulenga 4′

Attendance: 12,353

Attendance at the Wuhan Sports Centre have obviously already declined from the remarkable 41,000 who were present for the season opener, but 12,000 is still almost three times the average the club were getting at the Xinhua Road Stadium last season. The rise in crowd numbers has come as a direct result of pre-season optimism that the club may actually be legitimate promotion contenders, but that is wearing off fast. Supporters were streaming out of the ground with 10 minutes remaining and, perhaps more worryingly, captain and long time servant Yao Hanlin was coming in for some strong abuse from supporters who were frustrated by his ineffective display as an offensive midfielder.

Zall’s next two games are away to Shenzhen FC and at home to Beijing Renhe. If results don’t go their way across those matches, Wuhan’s promotion hopes would be all but gone for another year and a majority of the club’s fickle fanbase will likely depart with them.

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.

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