The Blue Devils and Red Eagles Race for Third

CSLShanghai SIPG find themselves level on points with Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League (CSL) following Sunday’s win at Hangzhou Greentown.

The top-three sides in the CSL and CFA Cup winners qualify for the following season’s Asian Champions League (ACL) which will naturally help recruit players…if the hugely inflated salaries weren’t enough already.

Both sides have just five games of the season remaining and on the face of it, SIPG have a more challenging run in.

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But whilst SIPG have ‘stronger’ opponents, three of their games come a day before Shenhua’s giving Sven Goran-Eriksson’s team the chance to crank up the pressure on their city rivals. Shenhua, however, will be pleased that two of those three are against the league’s top two sides.

The Blue Devils’ shaky away form (8th in the division) should improve with Gregorio Manzano’s side travelling to three of the CSL’s bottom six clubs. They will host their toughest opponents (Henan and Beijing) at the Hongkou Stadium where they’re currently unbeaten in the league.

SIPG’s home form on the other hand isn’t quite so impressive. It’s also unlikely to get much better as they still have leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei Fortune and Shandong Luneng – who like SIPG, recently lost their ACL quarter-final tie against South Korean opposition – to visit.

Shenhua need Cao Yunding (4 goals, 8 assists), Giovanni Moreno (7 goals, 3 assists) and Obafemi Martins (8 goals, 3 assists) to hit form in the close season. The trio, minus the injured Ba’s 14 strikes, have scored 70.4% of Shenhua’s league goals this season.

As a team, Shenhua have scored 29.3% (12 of 41) of their goals in the last 15 minutes which suggests their fitness and concentration levels are better than most of their opponents.

sipgSIPG, meanwhile, have rarely scored between the 15th and 30th minute of games but they do tend to have more joy in the second half, peaking from the hour mark until the 75th minute. They’ll hope Asian record signing, Hulk, can carry his side to a strong finish which given his name and appearance, should be more than possible.

The rivalry between these two sides means local pride is of greater value than ACL qualification. That theory gained credence after last night’s results mean the CFA Cup final is between Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Suning, which will likely see the team that finishes fourth also qualify.

Shenhua supporters view SIPG as the new, unwanted kids on the block. SIPG fans see their club as a fresh start, post the match-fixing era that has tainted Chinese football. Though referees and players are no longer being bribed, Shenhua’s following would suggest that has now transferred to the support of their counterparts with claims that the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) pay their employees to attend matches and help fill the 56,000 capacity Shanghai Stadium. SIPG’s lavish spending on foreigners in terms of transfer fees and/or wages has also left their fans suffering from the ‘plastic’ label.

shenhuaLast night, Manzano showed where his priorities lie during the CFA Cup semi-final against Jiangsu Suning. The Spanish manager opted for a makeshift team that saw all of his foreign players and some of his stronger Chinese personnel rested for the second-leg despite the fact his side were very much in the tie following a first-leg 3-2 defeat. They subsequently lost 1-0 and were eliminated 4-2 on aggregate.

It undervalues the CFA Cup much like the domestic cup competitions in England. Although, semi-finals often see a side’s strongest eleven fielded regardless of their league circumstances.

Naturally, fans are upset and frustrated by this move and that will only intensify if they fail to overcome SIPG. But if they do manage to finish third then last night’s line-up would be quickly forgotten by most.

This battle is so close that it might be even more interesting than the title race which looks likely to be won by Guangzhou Evergrande for a sixth consecutive year. Although, the penultimate game of the season away to second-placed Jiangsu Suning could make things a little tenser when the campaign comes to an end on the 5th November.

Shenhua slip-up in the rain

CSLShanghai Shenhua 2-2 Chongqing Lifan
Friday 16th September 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua gave up a two-goal lead and two-points as they maintained their unbeaten home form on a wet Friday night.

Many fans braved the typhoon to support third placed, Shanghai Shenhua as they took on Chongqing Lifan – who sit ninth in the Chinese Super League (CSL).

A win for the home side would have seen Gregorio Manzano’s men pull clear of local rivals Shanghai SIPG in the race for top three and qualification for next season’s Asian Champions League – a tournament SIPG were eliminated from following their recent 5-0 defeat to South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the quarter-finals.

After an opening of few opportunities, Lifan nearly took the lead when Brazilian forward, Alan Kardec, reacted quickest to a loose ball in Shenhua’s penalty area. Unfortunately for the away side, he could only hit the side netting having been forced too wide after rounding goalkeeper Li Shuai.

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Hongkou has been good to Shenhua this season, but it’s also been better than tonight.

With a quarter of the game gone, Moreno broke the deadlock to send the loyal supporters delirious. The Colombian’s strike from over 20-yards dipped and made use of the wet surface to deceive Deng Xiaofei in the Lifan goal.

Less than five minutes later, Fernandinho had a glorious chance to equalise after breaking the offside trap. The Brazilian winger lacked composure as he dragged his effort wide with just the keeper to beat.

After half an hour’s play, Lifan were made to pay for that miss when Cao Yunding doubled the home side’s advantage. The goal was created by Obafemi Martins’ brilliant disguised drag pass to put his Chinese teammate through for a first-time finish.

It could easily have been three when Moreno’s clever flick played Cao Yunding into the channel before cutting the ball back for Martins. The former Newcastle striker couldn’t keep his shot down as it sailed over the bar.

Despite Shenhua’s dominance after scoring their second, Lifan nearly got a goal back before half-time. Fernandinho tried to atone for his earlier miss but his clipped free-kick was tipped wide by Li Shuai.

Just eight-minutes after the break, Lifan did reduce the deficit when Wang Dong was on hand to tap-in from six-yards. The Shenhua defence was stretched and Chongqing were very much back in the game.

Both sides squandered opportunities on the counter-attack as the match became more open.

Shenhua’s Sheng Qin talked his way into the referee’s book and could easily have received a second yellow for simply not shutting up. It was a display of ill-discipline that is all too frequent in the CSL.

With just over ten minutes remaining, Fernandinho drew the sides level when he side-footed Kardec’s cross into the far corner.

Both of Lifan’s goal scorers had chances to complete the comeback. First, captain Wang Dong over hit his attempted lob when found in a great position while Fernandinho tested Li Shuai from the angle.

The referee blew for full-time and Shenhua should be disappointed by the lack of attempts created (nine) despite having more of the possession (55%). Failing to close out a game like this could be their undoing this season.

Credit to Lifan and their manager Chang Woe-Ryong who really made use of his half-time team talk. The Chongqing side doubled their first-half attempts at goal from five to ten while dominating the aerial duels and looking dangerous on the break, particularly down the right-flank.

manzanoManzano and Shenhua will be hoping they won’t be made to regret dropping these two-points. SIPG make the short trip to Hangzhou on Sunday knowing a win will see Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side return to third. This race, unlike the typhoon, has a long way to go yet.

Shuttlecock and Balls

Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Liaoning Shenyang Hongyun
Saturday 20th August 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua maintained their unbeaten home league form and chase for Asian Champions League qualification with another win at the Hongkou Stadium.

There were few chances of note until Shenhua’s Cao Yunding curled just wide of the far-post in the 25th minute.

Michael Thwaite

Thwart during his days representing Australia.

But three minutes later, Liaoning – who started the weekend in 11th place – took a surprise lead when Michael Thwaite capitalised on some poor marking to head into the far corner.

Just after half an hour, Liaoning could have been two to the good. Sun Shilin should have doubled his side’s advantage but was thwarted by Li Shuai’s smothering save.

Fredy Guarin tried to cancel out Thwaite’s opener with an acrobatic volley following a near-post flick on but the Colombian’s effort sailed high and wide.

However, the home side did find an equaliser in the 43rd minute when captain Giovanni Moreno beat Shi Xiaotian at his near post from outside the area. The Liaoning keeper’s positioning was poor but the Hongkou faithful didn’t care.

Half-time arrived with the scores level at one apiece.

China’s Lin Dan was drawing one set all with Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen during the tightly contested bronze decider at the Rio Olympics.

That’s right, at half-time, Shanghai TV decided to suspend broadcasting of the football in preference of the badminton’s medal matches. It wouldn’t be too difficult to accept given the sport’s popularity had the same coverage not been on CCTV 5, a channel that can be accessed by all Chinese viewers. If, like me, you don’t really care about the badminton results, skip the next two paragraphs.

Lin Dan

Lin Dan was unable to repeat his success from Beijing and London at the Rio Olympics, not that I was interested.

The men’s singles match ended with Axelsen defeating Lin Dan – holder of the last two Olympic titles – to claim bronze with a 21-17 final set victory. I, meanwhile, sat baffled by the situation with Stoke City v Man City on my tablet.

Chinese pride was restored when Chen Long beat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in straight sets, 21-18, 21-18. His success made it four men’s singles gold medals from the last five Olympics for China.

During the final, viewers were treated to an interruption that revealed Obafemi Martins had continued his rich vein of form to give Shenhua the lead. The Nigerian forward made it five from his last five league appearances with a close-range header. The 80th minute goal, which turned out to be the winner – an assumption made on the basis that there were no further disruptions during the badminton – was largely due to Cao Yunding’s dangerous cross into the box.

manzano

Manzano is making the Hongkou Stadium quite the fortress.

This victory saw Gregorio Manzano’s side consolidate their place in the CSL’s top three as one of their closest rivals, Hebei lost to Henan over the weekend.

Next up for Shanghai Shenhua is a difficult trip to 6th placed Guangzhou R&F on Sunday 11th September.

You’d hope a country and government trying to promote football would ensure that there’d be no racquet-based interludes for the remaining seven rounds of league matches.

CSL Results:
Shanghai SIPG 4-1 Shijiazhuang Ever Bright
Guangzhou Evergrande 0-0 Hangzhou Greentown
Tianjin Teda 1-4 Shandong Luneng
Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Liaoning Shenyang
Jiangsu Suning 2-1 Beijing Guoan
Henan Jianye 1-0 Hebei China Fortune
Chongqing Lifan 4-5 Guangzhou R&F
Changchun Yutai 1-0 Yanbian Fude 

Hongkou Happiness for Martins and co.

1026162482Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Guangzhou Evergrande
Saturday 13th August 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua gave their AFC Champions League qualification hopes a huge boost after climbing to third in the CSL following yet another win against one of their rivals.

A brace from Obafemi Martins was enough to claim all three-points at the Hongkou Stadium where the hosts remain unbeaten all season.

In sweltering conditions, Shenhua made the brighter start with Cao Yunding breaking away down the left. The pacey winger opted to shoot instead of using the numerical advantage his teammates had created on the overlap down the right.

But just two minutes later, the home side took the lead. Zheng Zhi lost possession cheaply in his defensive third, which allowed Giovanni Moreno to pounce. The club captain found Martins on the edge of the area and the Nigerian’s quick feet created the space before slotting into the far corner.

Five minutes later, Moreno dispossessed his opponent on the hallway line and tried to play Martins in again. The Colombian took to long to release the ball, which allowed the gaps in Guangzhou’s defence to close.

In reply, Guangzhou created an opportunity for Paulinho to head towards goal from ten-yards. The Brazilian’s effort was weak, as he failed to generate any power from a looping cross that lacked pace.

The away side did find an equaliser when Lin Gao scored from an unlikely angle. A combination of poor defending by Tao Jin and even worse goalkeeping by Li Shuai resulted in the league leaders drawing level.

Li Shuai made up for his error when he denied Paulinho’s first time shot with a good save. At this point, Guangzhou Evergrande was beginning to gain a foothold in the game.

Alan – who scored the winner when these two sides met in April – broke Shenhua’s offside trap but could only find the side netting from the right channel.

A quarter of the way through, Cao Yunding wasted another good opportunity as he delayed his shot long enough for it to be blocked out for a corner.

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Moreno and Martins embrace at the final whistle.

Shenhua were starting to look most threatening on the counterattack and Martins nearly doubled his tally when he was allowed to carry the ball for over 40-yards. The former Newcastle forward dragged his shot wide as the defensive pressure increased.

With only a few minutes of the half remaining, Martins and Shenhua got their second of the game.

Following a throw-in, Martins reacted quickest to the loose ball and took one touch into the right corner of the area before letting fly with an early strike. His well-struck shot seemed to catch Zeng Cheng in the Guangzhou goal slightly flat-footed as the ball nestled into the bottom corner.

It was a great finish celebrated in his usual acrobatic style that wouldn’t look too out of place at the Olympics.

Shanghai Shenhua took their lead into the break with the supporters creating plenty of noise.

The second half was a far cagier affair with fewer opportunities for either side. But just after the hour mark, Ricardo Goulart’s glancing header struck the crossbar as the reigning Champions went in search of an equaliser.

Martinez

Martinez missed a great chance to equalise late on.

Little else happened until the final couple of minutes. Jackson Martinez – a 70th minute substitute – was presented with his side’s best chance of the match. The £35.2m signing from Atletico Madrid hit the post from six-yards when it appeared easier to score. Paulinho then had his follow-up blocked before the ball was cleared away from danger.

It was a big let-off for Shenhua who despite being the better side, nearly surrendered their victory in the final moments.

Fortunately for Gregorio Manzano’s side, they held on to complete consecutive home wins against Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu and SIPG. The top three teams prior to kick-off.

For Luiz Felipe Scolari and his team, their 11-point lead can be reduced to eight if Jiangsu Suning defeat bottom-side Changchun Yatai away on Sunday.

The Blue Devils will be keeping a close eye on Jiangsu’s game, as they’ll be facing them on Wednesday evening in the CFA Cup semifinal.

China’s Five Obstacles – 3) Facilities

FacilitiesThe Mumbler looks at facilities in the third of five articles summarising the hurdles China must overcome to reach its ambitious and well-publicized targets within football.

A place to play football is an understandable requirement for any budding footballer. It’s about as essential as students to a teacher, a plane to a pilot, or a reality TV show to a wannabe celebrity.

But the Chinese hopefuls have to settle for limited facilities of generally poor quality and/or at a monopolised price.

Personal experience suggests that the opportunities to kick a football in anger are very much limited in Shanghai’s city centre. The densely populated metropolis hardly lends itself to enabling a group of people comparative to its population playing football regularly, if at all.

For example, it would cost £69 to hire half an 11-a-side artificial pitch for an hour in downtown Shanghai. That’s a Government owned facility of low quality, surrounded by an athletics track often occupied by the general public who prefer to walk both forwards and backwards in a circle instead of along the street.

The cost per match to use a grass pitch of respectable to good quality is as follows:

  • Jinqiao > £230
  • Waigoaqiao and Century Park > £460 – £574 (members) or £690 – £920 (non-members)
Jinqiao

The sports field in Jinqiao, Shanghai.

Those are the three pitches often used during the weekends here in Shanghai. Century Park is the venue used by visiting International sides as well as Man Utd when they were preparing for their recent friendly against Borussia Dortmund.

The above prices don’t compare too well to the hiring of a grass pitch in England, which is around £50-60 per match. Just a quarter of Jinqiao’s rate.

A lack of alternatives in Shanghai increases not only the costs to hire but also the usage. Someone trying to overcome that challenge is American, Adam Christy, owner of Grass Masters Shanghai. During his nine years of building, designing and maintaining athletic fields, he’s noticed the city’s pitches are deteriorating much faster than in the U.S. “Fields in Shanghai are used at a rate of 30-40+ hours a week compared to the U.S. which is around half of that.”

China suffer in comparison to the UK when it comes to playing facilities, however, the reverse is true when it comes to accessing all live Premier League matches. China benefits from the business model of ‘charge a lot a little’. The UK experience quite the opposite with Sky TV customers paying an extra £27.50 per month to add the Sky Sports channels. I on the other hand paid just £23 for the entire season last year. That included my choice of every Premier League match, while Chinese apps provided free access to Champions League, Europa League as well as select FA Cup and La Liga matches. It’s hardly surprising that the Chinese are more governed towards being spectators than players.

Of course, it wouldn’t be easy to charge a high rate when the matches are on between 7:45 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. And yes, I am stupid enough to watch football at that time.

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Yu Lingxiao and Jason Zhen during the China Football Summit.

During the China Football Summit 2016 (CFS), a panel including Yu Lingxiao of Super Sports and Jason Zhen of IDG Capital stated that the post-90s generation is less inclined to participate in physical activity. Their fondness of the Internet means they prefer to play online instead.

This is very much driven by a combination of the competitive education system and the lack of opportunities to participate in sports both indoors and out. Subsequently, this has led to an increase in child obesity.


According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission
, the figure for obese children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17) in 2002 was 2.1%. In ten years, the report claimed that figure grew to 6.4% and there’s been little sign since of that subsiding.

The article also included the following comments by Liang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 10.07.30The rapid rise in living standards in the past few decades has contributed to the spike in both obesity and chronic diseases.
  • China has moved from a period of severe food shortages in the 1970s to a time of plenty.
  • Fundamental changes in lifestyles and working practices, such as the popularity of cars and computers result in lower levels of physical activity.
  • A shortage of facilities means students don’t get enough physical exercise at school, which is leading to rising levels of obesity among school-age children.

Those who do participate in physical activity tend to prefer basketball. Why? Because they can play it regularly.

In developed cities, where outdoor space comes at a premium, it is common to see a scattering of basketball courts. At schools, you’re far more likely to see half a dozen basketball courts than you are a football pitch of any description.

Mini basketball court

A local mini-basketball court.

For instance, there’s a public basketball court just down the road from where I live. It’s not a standard sized court, but instead two smaller half-courts put together. This encourages a three-on-three half court game, which means 12 people at one time can use the facility. This is around 15m x 12m (180 sq.m.) whereas a full-size court would be 28m x 15m (420 sq.m.). Meanwhile, the minimum dimensions of a six-a-side football pitch are 20m x 40m (800 sq.m.).

Lv Lei, a planning supervisor for Yutang Sports, revealed during the CFS that there are ten times as many basketball courts as there are football pitches in China.

It’s understandable given that to play basketball you only need a hoop on a wall, of which there are plenty in the concrete jungle that is Shanghai.

Also at the CFS, Professor Liu Dongfeng from Shanghai University stated that London has 25 times more football pitches per 10,000 people than Shanghai. He also said that China plans to increase the number of its football pitches from 10,000 to 70,000 (600% increase) as part of its football reform.

But where will these pitches go? There has been talk of utilising the space currently occupied by near empty golf courses – a sport with a very high status and therefore high costs. But those are primarily on the outskirts of cities.

Century Park

Century Park, where Man Utd have trained.

To play at the weekend on grass pitches, my team and I could travel from 30 minutes to nearly two hours by car, depending on which pitch in addition to the weekend traffic. It’s not quite the same as popping to your local park in England.

Finding space to build football pitches in developed cities is extremely difficult. The dense populations make the financial benefits of building a block of flats too hard to resist. But, the start of a possible solution could be the number of schools specialising in football, should they increase from 5,000 to 20,000 as planned by 2020.

Presumably these schools would have the facilities to play football indoors and/or out which means good news for those students. Then there’s the public. The facilities could be promoted for public use during evenings and weekends at a low price or even free if the local government is feeling particularly generous. The idea that schools and society should share football pitches has been mooted and it makes complete sense. After all, the pitches are unlikely to be occupied during school/work hours if they’re only available to the public.

So while there’s the land to develop these 60,000 extra football pitches, there isn’t necessarily the convenience. And within a culture that demands so much of its students, a place to play football outside of school hours can’t really be anymore than 30 minutes from home.

The infrastructure of China’s developed cities and their resulting populations mean it will never reach its full potential. But when you’re talking about a nation with around 350,000 schools, getting anywhere close should be enough to see China impose itself on the football world. They just need somewhere to play.

Sky’s CSL Coverage

skysportsThe weekend saw Sky present two live matches from the CSL for the first time.

They were rewarded with one of the games of the season on Saturday when Shanghai Shenhua twice came from behind before deservedly beating Jiangsu Suning 3-2.

Sunday was the 3-3 thriller between Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG. An exciting finish included three goals in the last 15 minutes as the points were shared at Yuexiushan Stadium.

But while viewers were exposed to a great deal of entertainment on the pitch, how was the coverage and how did it compare to other leagues broadcasted by Sky?

Comparison of coverage:

Competition Match Studio based pundits Time allocated
CSL

China

Shanghai Shenhua v Jiangsu Suning No 120 mins
MLS

America

Portland Timbers v Sporting Kansas City No 130 mins
Eredivisie

Holland

Groningen v Feyenoord No 130 mins
SPFL

Scotland

Rangers v Hamilton Yes 180 mins
SPFL

Scotland

Hearts v Celtic Yes 150 mins
Championship

England

Fulham v Newcastle Yes 195 mins
Championship

England

QPR v Leeds Yes 150 mins
Friendly

International

Barcelona v Leicester Yes 150 mins

*In bold are the first live fixtures of the new season for those competitions, which will likely explain the extra time dedicated to them.

MNF 2As you can see from the table above, the CSL has the least and minimum amount of time dedicated to its coverage compared to other leagues. The Monday Night Football, which should be the ambition of Chinese television’s football coverage, looks only at the English Premier League and would normally be 240 minutes long. That’s because the expert pundits – currently a special guest plus Jamie Carragher after Gary Neville took then lost the Valencia job last year – would provide concise yet detailed analysis of the teams involved in that night’s particular match as well as a review of the weekend’s key moments.

MNF 1

Sky’s MNF coverage is hard to beat.

The CSL will never receive such attention from Sky in England, and nor will any other league. So the CSL will need to have ambitions of being covered more than the likes of MLS and Eredivisie, hence why they were included in the above table.

If they can one day have a studio based team and two commentators, plus the natural increase in time slot, then the CSL will be a great deal closer to achieving its goal of being amongst the world’s top five leagues.

Coverage:

It began five minutes prior to kick-off as the players were walking out of the tunnels ahead of the obligatory national anthem. The solitary commentator employed to cover the game went through the starting line-ups of both sides with some background information.

Unfortunately, whilst it was clear the commentator for Shenhua’s game had done some research on the players and sides involved, he did make several mistakes.

Those errors included Hulk’s new team, which he said was Henan Jianye instead of Shanghai SIPG. He also wrongly referenced Roger Martinez when talking about Shenhua replacing the goals that the injured Demba Ba would often provide. Another example was Shenhua’s run of form, which saw four wins and three losses from the last seven. The commentator claimed that all four wins were at home but one of those was a recent 1-0 victory away at Shandong Luneng Taishan.

But mistakes are more likely during live events and the commentator did add his own enthusiasm to proceedings, which only improved the viewing experience.

Sunday’s commentator did a very good job with clear knowledge and insight into CSL matters. He was also accurate with both teams when referencing their players.

On both occasions, the commentators were never seen but it would be them providing the half-time and full-time analysis with the support of highlight reels.

Guangzhou E fans

Guangzhou’s fans will hope to leave Shanghai with more than their Jiangsu counterparts.

The great atmosphere – the best in the league in my opinion – was noticeable during Shanghai Shenhua’s Yangtze Delta Derby with Jiangsu Suning. The fact it is a football stadium rather than athletics also helps so fingers-crossed more of the same will be on show when Shanghai Shenhua v Guangzhou Evergrande is shown on Saturday 13th August.

Unfortunately for the CSL, the next fixtures to be broadcast live coincide with the opening weekend of the English Premier League season. This will probably see a drop in viewing numbers as British supporters tune in to watch their own sides start the 2016/17 season.

In the meantime, all the CSL can do is continue providing enjoyable matches to its supporters and hopefully persuade many first time viewers to remain interested.

Wu Lei’s late penalty earns point in thriller

CSLGuangzhou R&F 3 v 3 Shanghai SIPG
Sunday 31st July 2016
Yuexiushan Stadium

Only five-points separated the two sides heading into this encounter, the second CSL match to be shown live on Sky.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side travelled south to Guangzhou in the hope of returning to the top three. SIPG dropped to fourth after Shanghai Shenhua’s great win against Jiangsu Suning last night.

Standing in their way were Guangzhou R&F who had won their last five matches at home. They also had recent recruit, Eran Zahavi, providing a serious goal threat. The Israeli international has scored four goals in five matches, with three of those appearances coming from the bench.

hulk

Hulk is still recovering from an injury sustained during his debut.

SIPG were without the injured duo of Dario Conca and Asian transfer record, Hulk, while Asamoah Gyan has been demoted to the reserves due to the foreign player quota rules. That’s like paying Brad Pitt full salary to be an understudy in a movie.

The game itself took a little while to get going. The first opening came from Dragan Stojković’s side following some good play between Renatinho and Zahavi, which saw the latter shoot wide of the near-post.

Despite the slow start, Brazilian Renatinho broke the deadlock with a fine finish in the 17th minute. The midfielder received a great knockdown by Xiao Zhi, before hitting his half volley into the top corner from the edge of the area.

Suddenly, Shanghai SIPG was sparked into life and was level within a few minutes. China’s current football idol, Wu Lei, tapped home following a dangerous cross by Jean Kouassi from the left-hand side.

Wu Lei has been in fine form with five goals from his last five games prior to kick-off.

Guangzhou’s threat was from either Renatinho or Zahavi, while Kouassi and Wu Lei always looked to exploit the home side’s high line.

Despite a couple of long-range attempts and snap shots, the scores remained level heading into half-time.

But less than five minutes into the second half, Wu Lei broke the offside trap and rounded the onrushing keeper. The Chinese winger’s rolled attempt from a difficult angle nutmegged one defender and appeared to lack the necessary pace to reach the goal before a clearance could be made. But Yu Yang’s sliding attempt found the roof of his own net to give SIPG the lead.

Renatinho then had a mini-duel with Junling Yan, as he forced the SIPG goalkeeper into making a couple of good saves in the space of a minute.

eran zahavi

Zahavi looks to be a good signing.

Zahavi was then inches away from equalising with a curling effort in the 74th minute.

However, four minutes later, Guangzhou did find their equaliser thanks to Wang Song. The experienced midfielder drilled the loose ball into the bottom corner following a poor headed clearance.

Suddenly, Guangzhou had their tails up and Jiang Zhipeng earned his side a penalty within two minutes of Song’s equaliser.

Zahavi stepped up and confidently sent Junling Yan the wrong way and sent the locals delirious. In the space of two minutes, Guangzhou R&F had turned the game on its head and SIPG were heading back to Shanghai empty handed.

In the closing stages, Wu Lei did attempt an overhead kick, which went narrowly over the bar. But just a minute later, he was given the chance to complete his hat-trick when his side were awarded a 90th minute penalty.

Ivorian Kouassi was fouled and Wu Lei showed great composure despite the supporters’ best efforts as he shot high into the left corner.

This result coupled with Hebei China Fortune’s draw away to Shijiazhuang Ever Bright means SIPG, Shenhua and Hebei all sit third, fourth and fifth respectively on 34-points. The race for an Asian Champions League place could be more exciting than that of the title with Guangzhou Evergrande 10 ahead of Jiangsu with a game in hand.

Wu LeiMan of the match: Wu Lei

It’s hard to ignore someone who scores all three of his side’s goals. The Xu Genbao Academy graduate and speedy winger showed intelligent movement as well as the necessary calmness in front of goal when the opportunities arrived.

Shenhua take provincial honours

1026162482Shanghai Shenhua 3-2 Jiangsu Suning
Saturday 30th July 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Known as the Yangtze Delta Derby, Shanghai Shenhua took on Jiangsu Suning in the first Chinese Super League match televised live on Sky Sports.

There was an added motive besides provincial pride with both teams looking to at least end the season in the top three and cement a place in next year’s Asian Champions League.

Sitting fifth prior to kick-off and two-points off third, Gregorio Manzano’s side were quick out of the blocks as they looked to extend their season-long unbeaten run at home to 13 in all competitions (W9, D3).

After just five minutes, Shenhua captain, Giovanni Moreno had an acrobatic scissor-kick from a corner sensationally saved by Gu Chao in the Jiangsu goal.

Just two minutes later, Obafemi Martins raced clear down the right but saw his low-effort saved once again by Gu Chao.

Shenhua’s Cao Yunding was causing all kinds of problems – as he often has throughout this campaign – and the diminutive winger nearly broke the deadlock after cutting in from the left and shooting just over.

Jiangsu had to withstand a great deal of pressure but they nearly took the lead following a counter-attack from yet another Shenhua corner.

But Shenhua nearly responded instantly when Moreno slipped Cao Yunding in down the left with a clever flicked pass. The Chinese player’s early ball across the box was too close to Gu Chao despite Martins’ best efforts.

Roger Martinez

Martinez (right) at former club Racing Club.

After a whirlwind opening, Jiangsu scored against the run of play in the 21st minute. Recent Colombian acquisition, Roger Martinez, saw his near-post diving header somehow loop into the far corner. It was a fortuitous and undeserved goal for the second-placed side.

Just seven-minutes later, however, a clumsy challenge on Martins saw the linesman flag for a penalty while the referee appeared unmoved by the incident. After consultation, the spot-kick was awarded despite protests from several Jiangsu players. Fredy Guarin stepped up and emphatically converted from 12-yards.

The game calmed down for a moment until a few minutes before half-time. Former Asian transfer record holder and Liverpool target, Alex Teixiera, showed his class to help his side restore their lead. A deft and disguised through ball caught Shenhua’s defence flat-footed, allowing Martinez to claim his and Jiangsu’s second of the game.

It was a blow for Shenhua given the timing of the goal and the fact Jiangsu’s hadn’t warranted their advantage going into the break. Their misery was further compounded when they lost first choice keeper, Li Shuai, to injury before the start of the second half.

His replacement, Geng Xiaofeng, was called into action immediately when he had to react well to Martinez’s near-post flick. The 22-year-old forward has made an immediate impact with five goals in just three games.

Before the hour mark, Cao Yunding, came close to scoring with another effort from range. After skipping past two defenders, the 26-year-old and Xu Genbao Academy graduate, shot inches away from the top corner.

Not to be discouraged, Cao Yunding had the ball at his feet once again. He ran at Jiangsu’s back peddling defence before slipping a well-weighted pass for Martins to finish first time. It was a thoroughly deserved equaliser for the home side in front of their ever-singing supporters.

Jiangsu Suning were rattled and just after an hour’s play, Martins should have given his side the lead. Right-winger, Lu Zheng, found the former Newcastle forward less than ten-yards from goal but he lifted his half-volley high over the bar.

Five minutes later, Moreno nearly scored with an audacious and improvised rabona that went just wide of Gu Chao’s peppered goal. The tall Colombian playmaker is popular amongst the locals who enjoy such moments of creativity.

During an intense phase of attacking football from Shenhua, Guarin broke down the right channel. He squared the ball for Martins who was denied a tap-in by Trent Sainsbury’s last-ditch tackle. It was a fantastic piece of defending by the Australian international but he would suffer just ten minutes later.

Fredy Guarin

Guarin helped his side with two goals.

Cao Yunding provided the lay-off for Guarin’s well-struck effort from distance. Unfortunately for Jiangsu, it deflected off Sainsbury and past Gu Chao to give Shanghai Shenhua the lead in the 79th minute.

Jiangsu pressed for an equaliser, which left more opportunities for Shenhua’s counter-attack. But they couldn’t find the equaliser as Shenhua claimed the victory that sees them climb to third in the table ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.

As they acknowledged all ends of the ground after the final whistle, the Shenhua players wore t-shirts dedicated to Demba Ba – who suffered a broken leg during the Shanghai derby two weeks ago.


Man of the match:
Cao Yunding

A menace down Jiangsu’s right throughout, the right-footed pacey winger – who plays down the left – provided two assists and was a key outlet for the home side. For those who appreciate a nostalgic reference, he’s like a Chinese version of former Southampton player, Fabrice Fernandes.

Sky Really is the Limit

CSLYesterday, Sky announced that they would be broadcasting matches from the Chinese Super League (CSL) until the end of the 2018 season. With that in mind, The Mumbler has decided to give a bit of an insight into what lies ahead for the UK based viewers…

Firstly, this deal has most likely been struck on the back of huge investment by CSL clubs, particularly during the last 12 months. Some of the new arrivals can be found below with those familiar to the UK audience in bold:

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Transfer fees gathered from www.transfermarkt.com

FOREIGN PLAYER QUOTA
Despite the sizeable amount of money spent on foreign players, the league’s rules limit how many are allowed in each squad. Since 2009, teams have been allowed to contain five foreign players, including one from the Asian Football Confederation (AFA). But only four of those five players, including the AFA player, are able to be on the field of play at any one time. For example, Lavezzi, Gervinho, M’Bia and Kakuta can’t all play at the same time. Prior to Lavezzi’s injury, it was Kakuta who had to settle for a place on the bench, often replacing one of the other three foreign players.

Obviously the purpose of this rule was to ensure local player development and that also includes only Chinese goalkeepers being permitted to play.

The issue with the approach of most CSL sides is that they’ve gone top heavy in their transfer dealings. Of the 25 players listed above, only one is a defender (Brazil international, Gil). Clubs like to go for names ahead of practicalities which leads to some of the foreign arrivals suffering from a lack of quality service, such as Pelle – who cut a frustrated figure during his latest match.

Wu Lei

China’s Wu Lei hoping to avoid the challenge.

That has natural implications on not only the national team in terms of attacking players coming through but it also dictates the winner of the MVP award. A Chinese player hasn’t won the award since 2007 and that led to the introduction of the top Chinese scorer award in 2011. Wu Lei – China’s biggest football star who made his professional debut at 14 – plays for Sven Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG and has claimed the last three seasons.

STANDARD
Established foreign imports have seen a rise in attendances and standard of play, but the quality of football is still behind the top European divisions, including the Championship in England. Teams in China seem to benefit most from balls into the box or counter-attacks and the games can often appear open in terms of space. Unfortunately, where a top European side would be ruthless and clinical, CSL teams often lack the ability to make the right decisions needed to capitalise. As a result, watching a CSL game can be quite anti-climatic given the number of squandered opportunities to create good chances.

GOALS
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any goals, with only the Bundesliga having a better rate of goals per game than the CSL. The table below is based on the last five seasons after 2011 marked the anticorruption movement instigated by the Chinese Government.

AVERAGE GOALS PER MATCH

LEAGUE 2011 (11/12) 2012 (12/13) 2013 (13/14) 2014 (14/15)

2015 (15/16)

CSL 2.35 2.63 (+11.9%) 2.63 (0%) 2.75 (+4.6%) 2.8 (+1.8%)
MLS 2.6 2.64 (+1.5%) 2.62 (-0.8%) 2.86 (+9.2%) 2.76 (-3.6%)
EPL 2.81 2.8 (-0.4%) 2.77 (-1.1%) 2.57 (-7.8%) 2.7 (+5.1%)
La Liga 2.76 2.87 (+4%) 2.75 (-4.4%) 2.66 (-3.4%) 2.74 (+3%)
Bundesliga 2.86 2.93 (+2.4%) 3.13 (+6.8%) 2.75 (-12.1%) 2.82 (+2.5%)
Serie A 2.56 2.63 (+2.7%) 2.73 (+3.8%) 2.69 (-1.5%) 2.58 (-4.3%)

*Despite the CSL always increasing its rate, this current campaign is down to 2.49 with a third of the season remaining.

I’ve included America’s MLS as they appear to be an immediate rival to the CSL. Whilst the American audience has been graced with a number of stellar names (Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa), the majority of those arrived in the twilight of their careers, whereas China’s imports are around the 30 year old mark instead of 35.

Like the CSL, Sky recently added MLS football to their catalogue of leagues, so it will be interesting to see the impact this has on both in terms of increased exposure.

FANS AND STADIUMS
Another area of improvement for the CSL is the fanbase, with average attendances up year on year apart from a small drop in 2013. The average attendance of CSL matches last season was higher than MLS and only half-a-dozen short of Serie A.

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Shenhua fans behind one of the goals.

Based on my experiences at Shanghai Shenhua’s ground, the atmosphere is impressive thanks to the Chinese supporters’ obvious enthusiasm for the game. Many of them would wake up during the early hours of the morning to watch their favourite European team and it is that sort of dedication, which isn’t just limited to the world’s more famous sides, that drives their passion.

At Shenhua, you would find nearly all fans on their feet for the entire game. There would be flags aplenty; megaphone users acting like conductors at each end of the ground and a series of well-known tunes sung throughout. Sky’s first game is Shenhua against Ramires’ Jiangsu Suning at the Hongkou Stadium so expect a decent turnout for the Saturday evening kick-off (12:30 p.m. in England).

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE PER MATCH

LEAGUE 2011 (11/12) 2012 (12/13) 2013 (13/14) 2014 (14/15)

2015 (15/16)

CSL 17,651 (+21.1%) 18,740 (+6.2%) 18,571
(-0.9%)
18,986 (+2.2%) 22,193 (+16.9%)
MLS 17,872 18,807 18,594 19,148 21,574
EPL 34,601 35, 931 36,657 36,175 36,451
La Liga 28,265 29,430 26,702 26,741 27,775
Bundesliga 45,116 42,421 43,502 43,527 43,309
Serie A 23,214 24,655 23,481 22,149 22,199
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Shenhua’s Hongkou Stadium.

The anticorruption movement needed to restore the CSL’s reputation and the attendances are a good sign that it’s working. This season, the number stands at 24,760, an 11.5% improvement on last year.

The only issue with most of the stadiums is that they are surrounded by running tracks, which dampens the atmosphere. Shenhua don’t have this issue as they play their home games at a purpose built football stadium.

COMPETITION
In terms of competitiveness, the CSL is prone to throwing up some surprise results – partly due to the playing surfaces and distances travelled for away games – but Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande have dominated over the last five years with consecutive championships.

Last season saw Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG push them all the way to the final day but Guangzhou Evergrande held out to win the league by the small margin of two-points. Most teams have played 20 of their 30 games already, yet Guangzhou sits seven-points clear of Jiangsu with a game in hand.

The top three plus the domestic cup winners are entered into the Asian Champions League, a tournament that CSL sides have enjoyed recent success in. Guangzhou won the 2013 and 2015 tournaments, while this year’s competition sees Shanghai SIPG and Felix Magath’s Shandong Luneng reach the quarterfinals where they both await South Korean opposition in late August.

PITCHES
As Man Utd and Man City recently discovered, the playing surfaces in China aren’t quite up to scratch compared to what the UK viewers are used to. This can lead to some amusing moments as well as scrappy encounters, particularly during the latter part of the March to November season with the heat of summer and regular fixtures taking its toll.

Penalty position copy

The keeper’s starting position before the run up had even started. Couldn’t see the linesman.

REFEREES
Like the pitches, the officials are also of a lower standard than what European supporters are familiar with. Juan Mata found himself questioning the referee’s performance during the friendly with Dortmund when Luke Shaw was adjudged to have committed a handball despite being side on to the pass with his arm straight down his side. And just this evening, Shanghai Shenhua were correctly awarded a penalty in their CFA Cup match with Fabio Cannavaro’s Tianjin Quanjian, but the referee failed to spot the goalkeeper’s starting position was a yard off his line before saving the spot kick. Moments like these are pretty common while players’ reactions to poor decisions can appear excessive and over the top.

Just Sunday night, Shenhua were defending their one-goal advantage away at Shandong when an unsavoury and unnecessary incident occurred. After Pelle had his point-blank range header saved and Cisse dragged the rebound wide, half of the Shenhua team aggressively ran towards the linesman to question why he didn’t raise his flag. The replay suggested he was actually right, but the behaviour of some players, often Chinese, left little to be desired. Think Roy Keane and co late 90s early 2000s.

Chase lino copy

Just the seven Shenhua players running to the linesman even though Cisse missed.

VIEWERS
Sky’s deal makes sense, as viewers will have something to watch during the offseason, particularly when there isn’t an international tournament to kill a month of the break. The time difference might be beneficial to viewing figures but the majority of the weekend games take place at 7:35 p.m. in China, which depending on the time of year can be seven or eight hours ahead.

Those who watch may be open to some bizarre moments based on personal experiences. They range from a Chinese footballer becoming frustrated with fan abuse on his way to the team bus and opting to throw his shoes at the ‘bully’ to a coach escaping his technical area, against the referee’s orders, and walking nearly as far as the goal just to confirm what a player was trying to say. These do happen and they can be moments of comedy but also bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating.

skysportsSUMMARY
So tune into Sky if you’re intrigued by the fastest emerging and improving league in world football and want to see what all the fuss is about; watch some familiar players managed by some nostalgic names, sweating their way through the humid Chinese summer on the side of some questionable playing surfaces officiated by some equally questionable referees in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It’s probably better than hitting the shops during Saturday lunchtime. And after all, there are still a couple of weeks to kill until the Premier League starts!

China’s Five Obstacles – 2) Education

EducationThe second of five articles summarizing what stands in China’s way of becoming a superpower in football by 2050 focuses on when students can actually play.

China’s vast size and huge population means its potential is far greater than most nations. Currently, football is the industry trying to exploit that potential in the hope of success on the global stage. But while the marketing possibilities for fans are enormous, the playing side of things faces a great challenge that is very much imbedded in the Chinese culture…education.

Simply put, the greater the population the greater the competition. So with regards to academic achievements, one student is always trying to outdo the other and that is often fuelled by immense pressure from the parents.

Subsequently, students will be spending the majority of their ‘free time’ completing homework, attending extra classes or partaking in an activity (music or dance) that their parents may have forced upon them in the first place.

books 2A typical middle school student would spend roughly four hours doing homework after school. That comes after a school day that starts at 8:00 a.m. and finishes at 4:30 a.m. Naturally, playing a sport during the week isn’t even a consideration, let alone a priority of any sorts.

This huge commitment is driven towards admittance into a top university. The quality of the course a student studies at that particular university is irrelevant. It’s still name over substance in China, which differs from the western approach.

To get into the top universities, students attending one of the 333,000 (approx.) state schools must take the Gao Kao exams. These take place on the 7th and 8th of June, leading to parents and grandparents standing outside the school gates, anxiously waiting for their loved ones ahead of an outcome they believe dictates the students’ future careers and success. The many years and countless hours of studying boils down to several tests in Chinese, Maths, English and one other specialist subject chosen by the student.

Special hotel rooms near the schools are available for students so they can spend more time revising and less time traveling back and forth. Parents will often accompany their children or employ Gao Kao nannies (latest bbc link) who specialize in preparation for the exams. To avoid any noise disturbance, roads outside the schools are blocked off during the two days.

security

Tightened security during the exam days.

Many parents have been planning their child’s route to a top university since pre-school. They essentially work their way back from a top high school in order to know which middle school they are best attending, which leads to the primary school decision and ultimately the desired choice of kindergarten. In addition to this, they would have their child enroll in a number of after school or weekend classes (sometimes in spite of limited finances) to ensure their child is a top academic student.

Clearly it’s a lot of pressure for the students not just because of the volume of competition they’re up against but also the fact that most are from a single child family. The weight of responsibility in addition to the hopes and dreams of their parents, including both sets of grandparents, can sadly lead to fatal consequences with some committing suicide despite being the top of a class of 50.

A 2008 poll of more than 3,800 teenagers in Foshan, Guangdong province, found that 17 percent of female junior high school students had contemplated suicide according to China Daily.

“There is a clear connection with the country’s basic education system,” said Xu Kaiwen, anassociate professor of clinical psychology at Peking University.

There’s a distinct lack of work life balance for these deprived teenagers which can start from as young as kindergarten. I once taught a five-year-old girl who spent 60 hours a week studying. She was a very sweet and well-behaved student, capable of fluently reciting a story in English that would take a few minutes to finish. She was also confident and sociable, but I couldn’t help but fear for her future if this was how her childhood – supposedly the best and certainly the freest period of life – would begin.

It’s not uncommon to see students from middle to high school appearing sapped of all energy and life as they wheel their school bag – such is the weight of it – back home.

As a sweeping statement, Chinese students are often labeled academically very strong but short of creativity, initiative and social skills. It’s the IQ v EQ argument and parents are beginning to acknowledge the significance of EQ, especially when it comes to university applications abroad.

Western universities look at the student beyond their test scores. They want to know if they can bring more to the university than just good grades. Do they have other skills in sport, music, drama etc.? Do they contribute to the community? Parents are now considering these questions but the student would often end up specialising in ballet or a musical instrument ahead of any sport.

That’s partly due to a presence of the archaic belief that sport only provides physical benefits. However, parents are beginning to accept that regular involvement in sport allows participants to develop their leadership skills, confidence, ability to deal with different characters, decision making and crucially, understanding of teamwork. A set of transferable skills not just limited to school but also their careers further down the line. Furthermore, an increase in alertness, concentration and healthier lifestyle will naturally assist their work or studies.

But it will take a great deal of time for the majority of parents to accept this to be true and not see P.E. as just an opportunity for overrun students to let off some steam. In my opinion, more time than the 34 years they’ve set to become a superpower within football both on and off the pitch. But as the locals say, “Don’t underestimate China!”