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The CFA Cup final – Shanghai derby edition – match primer

Oriental Sports Daily front page

This Sunday sees the first leg of the CFA cup final between city rivals Shanghai SIPG and Shanghai Shenhua and promises to be a real treat. Little needs to be said to get football lovers enthusiastic about this mouth-watering prospect but in order to enjoy this Shanghai derby final to the fullest, WEF is stepping up with this essential guide to this match and it’s history.

Basics

Where to even start with this game? China’s hottest city derby is taking place in the final of the Chinese FA Cup. Expect an atmosphere to rival any game anywhere. The Shanghai Derby has been so packed with drama in the past that it has attracted the gaze of international media, and developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of Chinese football’s most thrilling and dramatic fixtures. The basic reason is that, although SIPG have only been in the CSL for five years, the Shanghai Derby itself dates back nearly two decades which is an eternity in Chinese football. So there’s a lot of baggage in there.

The CFA cup isn’t the huge deal that some cup competitions are in Europe or South America, but it’s still very much worth winning as the sold-out cup finals of past years attest to. And this time it’s doubling as a Shanghai Derby. As the front page of the Oriental Daily Sports says above “Shanghai Football: The Final Conflict”

Before you go any further, you should listen to WEF’s Shanghai Derby podcast special recorded earlier this week if you haven’t done already.

And check out the official CFA Cup final trailer for the match

To the dismay of many, the CFA cup final is a two-legged affair with the first game kicking off this Sunday at Shenhua’s Hongkou stadium at 19.35. The second leg takes place a week later at Shanghai Stadium kicking off at 20.00. Both times are local which is UTC+8.

According to the CFA’s rules, if the scores are tied on aggregate after 90 minutes of the second leg, whichever team scored the most away goals wins. If the teams still can’t be separated, the match goes to extra time and away goals no longer count, with a penalty shoot-out taking place if the teams still can’t be separated after 30 minutes of extra-time.

Lastly, if you need any more convincing to tune into this game, check out what happened last time the teams met in the cup two years ago

Where to watch

At the time of writing, we still can’t find a list of broadcasters showing the game overseas. It will not be featured on Sky Sports, presumably because it’s not a Chinese Super League game. If you are in China you can see the game on TV on CCTV5. If you are outside China, it may be one some satellite channels, and the CCTV5 internet stream may or may not be accessible http://tv.cctv.com/live/cctv5/ but such stream will work in China. If not you can try this workaround.

Why is this game so significant?

So much is riding on this match. Starting with, if local media is to be believed, the jobs of both teams’ coaches. Andre Villas-Boas is a hit with the SIPG fans and is considered to have enjoyed a successful first season in China, getting to the semi-final of the Asian Champions League and finishing runners-up to Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League. However AVB has incurred the wrath of the CFA on many occasions this season for his outspoken criticism of some rather erratic and bizarre disciplinary decisions the ruling body made, particularly Oscar’s 8-match ban earlier in the season for allegedly kicking the ball at an opponent. This has displeased some in Shanghai, including the more old-school members of the sports media. Having promised chairman Sui Guoyang silverware this season, the CFA cup is AVBs last chance to deliver and word has it he will be out if he doesn’t.

His counterpart, Wu Jingui, is managing Shenhua on a caretaker basis after Gus Poyet quit back in September, having grown weary of the usual chaos emanating from the club ownership. Wu, 56, is set to be offered the job permanently if he can guide Shenhua to their first CFA cup victory since 1998 and is currently in his fourth spell in the Hongkou hotseat. However, Wu’s record since taking over has been far from impressive. His first job was to explain, after a 6-1 massacre in the last Shanghai Derby, why he had put Tevez on when he only days before said the Argentinean would not get a game again until he got in shape. He also fell out with Qin Sheng in a strange dispute down to personal differences which saw poor Qin again relegated to the reserves just after finishing his six-month ban.

Wu’s record since taking over reads W3 D2 L2. That doesn’t include a lucky CFA cup semi-final win against Shanghai Shenxin, but it does cover two meaningless CSL victories in the last two games against both of the relegated sides. Whether Wu should stay on or not is best kept for another piece but voices to keep him will grow louder if he can bring the cup to north Shanghai.

Shenhua and SIPG have been competing fiercely for bragging rights ever since SIPG ascended to the CSL as Shanghai East Asia in 2013. Since being renamed Shanghai SIPG in 2015, the team in red have very much taken the upper hand in the fight for local supremacy – SIPG won 9-2 on aggregate in this season’s Chinese Super League derbies. A 5-0 victory for SIPG back in 2015 also still lingers in the minds of Shanghai football fans.

Ultimately, if SIPG win this game they will undeniably win the right to call themselves Shanghai Laoda or “The Boss” of Shanghai.

Team approaches

Both sides come into this game in wildly different circumstances – SIPG on the back of their best ever season, Shenhua their worst. Some may feel the CFA cup would be a mere consolation prize for the Xujiahui team having come so close to bigger glories in the ACL and CSL. However this side has never won a top trophy before and this is only their fifth year in the CSL so it undoubtedly the fans want to win it. And that’s before considering the game is also a Shanghai Derby. A win for SIPG would make 2017 a year of undisputed success for the club and set them up for a serious title challenge next year. A loss, and well, SIPG would be accused of bottling it again and would carry that like a millstone around their neck next year.

For Shenhua, the end of 2017 can’t come quickly enough. Even by the club’s own horrific standard of chaotic failure, this season goes down as the club’s worst ever. The wheel of Chinese football fortunate perhaps came off its axis in the shape of a stadium fire which kept the team away from Hongkou for months, and a shockingly harsh six-month ban for key player Qin Sheng, but most other problems were, as usual, entirely of the clubs own making. Failure to retain a successful coach, a transfer policy which weakened the squad despite massive outlay, boardroom incompetence and interference, unmotivated and unprofessional players, upsetting fans by losing key home matches against rivals SIPG and Beijing Guoan, an injury crisis made worse by the club still having inadequate defensive cover, and no-one being able to see Tevez would be an expensive homesick failure, means 2017 was a write-off.

But for many, regardless of everything just mentioned about this season for Shenhua, the video below shows without any doubt one of the lowest moments in Shenhua’s history – The Shenhua ultra’s cappo telling the team to take off their shirts because they were not worthy of wearing them, in the aftermath of that 6-1 defeat. Unprecedented scenes and a dramatic illustration of how the derby has the power to deliver truly powerful moments. NSFW if you are a Shenhua fan.

Shenhua went into their preparations for this match with morale at rock bottom. Then they lost 7-1 in a warm-up friendly against Jieju of the K-League last weekend in what can only be described as a shambolic affair. So expectations from the blue corner couldn’t be lower. Shenhua supporters have been a little muted in the run-up to this game – few seriously believe their side can win over two legs. In some ways both sets of fans have reason not be so exited about this particular derby – SIPG seeing the cup as a consolation, Shenhua feeling that a cup win would only help the current regime survive longer, and both seeing the result a foregone conclusion.

But come Sunday, it will all be very different.

Getting to the game

Tickets sold out almost immediately. If you somehow have one, set out early and take the metro to match, Hongkou and the surrounding area will be busy. If you don’t have tickets you might just be able to pick up briefs on the street from touts or scalpers. At a rough guess tickets would be 500 rmb and upwards. Make sure you get the guy who sells you the ticket to take you to the turnstile to avoid fakes.

Security is seriously ramped up for this game. Fans have been told to turn up two hours before kickoff to ensure enough time to get through airport-like security. All the usual items are banned, but this time bags and coins have been added to the list. So spend those last pennies wisely.

Even if you can’t get a ticket, just being around Hongkou tomorrow will be an experience in itself. Wrap up for a fairly cold day though…

Weather forecast

Shanghai’s meteorological bureau issued a blue alert for high winds today – a cold northerly is currently blasting the city but will die down by tomorrow, when temperatures will range from 6-11c. With the match kicking off in the evening, expect it to be at the lower end of that scale by kickoff. This is significant because football is played in the summer in China, but we are now in the final two games of the season and it’s rare for games in Shanghai to be played in cold weather. So there will not be the usual hot and humid weather which normally slows the pace of games.

Team news

SIPG winger Lv Wenjun is out suspended, whilst Shenhua’s Freddy Guarin will take a late fitness test. Shenhua defender Li Jianbin is back playing reserve games but it may be too soon for him to return. This is a key absence for Shenhua as he is basically their best Chinese defender in a very shaky defence. Gio Moreno is set to play after featuring for Columbia against China earlier this week.

The Shanghainese factor

This being two local teams, there are a lot of local lads on both sides. SIPG have captain Wang Shencao, Yan Junling, Wang Jiajie, Cai Huikang, and Fu Huan likely to play. Shenhua have Cao Yunding, Bai Jiajun, Xu Junmin, Mao Jianqing, Li Yunqiu and Tao Jin as their Shanghainese contingent. Given that it’s a derby these will be the players closest to the fans and most likely to be more motivated than others to win. Shenhua in particular will be relying on their local players, particularly attackers Cao and Mao (who released an RnB track this week celebrating his connection to his hometown and love for Shenhua), to rise to the occasion and be the hero.

Players to watch

Aside from the players above, SIPG’s attacking force is probably the best in the league. Chinese national team forward Wu Lei and chunky Brazilian front man Hulk have scored 29 and 26 goals in all competitions respectively this season. They present a formidable threat to Shenhua’s amateur-level defence. And don’t forget Brazilian Elkseson who may not have had the best of seasons but he’s more than capable of scoring. In midfield SIPG have Oscar who will most likely be preferred over Uzbek international Amedov. Midfield enforcer Cai Huikang hasn’t had his best season but his ability to break up play and redistribute makes him a key player for his side. Much depends on who he will be facing…

Shenhua fans are hoping Tevez can take his final chance to pay back his massive salary by delivering the goods over two legs, but your correspondent doubts that. Guarin is vital to Shenhua’s chances – no Guarin = no real work rate or ability to dictate play in the midfield. Qin Sheng will probably start however which is a plus. As always, Gio Moreno can always turn something out of nothing as he has done against SIPG many times before. Shenhua’s left midfielder Cao Yunding will need to be on form, this has probably been his best ever season in terms of goals and assists, expect him to be motivated. His partnership with left back Bai Jiajun is well-known in the CSL, that’s because it is the seat of many a Shenhua attack. Obamafei Martins will most likely not feature due to Tevez. But he probably represents Shenhua’s best goal-scoring threat. Make of that what you will.

What to expect

A frentic and passionate game marked by multiple cards and most likely a few reds if past form is anything to go by. SIPG are very strong favourites for this game to say the least. Even the most blue-blooded Shenhua fan would conceed SIPG are more likely to win. The 6-1 demolition of Shenhua two months ago in the last derby is still fresh in everyone’s minds. But this contributes to the only one real scenario which sees Shenhua win this game – a bad day at the office for SIPGs forwards, who, tired and weary after a long season and spooked by a hostile partisan crowd, let the pressure of expectation to clinch silverware at the 3rd time of asking this season get to them. This combined with either a flash of Gio genius, or a made-in-Shanghai Cao Yunding or Mao Jianqing counter-attack to create and finish one of the limited chances Shenhua are liable to get. All other scenarios do not see Shenhua keeping a clean sheet.

Prediction

A game full of typical Shanghai Derby drama in which both sides score but SIPG come out 1-2 winners.

Regardless, here’s hoping for a great derby which does the CFA cup justice.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…

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