Monday, February 22, 2010

Champions Leauge Matchday 1 : Let's Get it Started

It's been a long time without a match and during that time there were a lot of events I failed to report on in the sports world. We've had the whole corruption scandal, Guoan's major signings, Marbury coming to China, the Winter Olympics, the new kits (coming soon), and the biggest, China's national team beating Korea, but you haven't read about any of those things on here. Anyways, now you have what you come to hear for, game information, and we have an interesting one tonight.

It seems like almost no time has passed since Halloween 2009, when on the day of gouls and goblins, Guoan broke a long standing curse to win their first ever domestic league title. That victory guarantees them a spot in the Asian Champions League, though hopefully this year's campaign will go better than last year's weak showing.

Guoan has certainly prepared well for this one, lots of preseason matches against domestic teams as well as a trip to Japan for a few against Japanese and Korean sides (including a brawl incident). They've also made a number of new signings which should do a lot to shape this year's side, bringing in former Scottish international Maurice Ross, CSL scoring stud Otto, and "China's Beckham" Xu Liang.

Just like last year, Guoan is opening its Asian campaign at home against an Australian team, though this time around its the Melbourne Victory. Last year, it was the new signings of the Griffiths brothers that combined against their old team (and older brother) to secure a victory. It appears that Ryan won't be on the ACL roster this time around, though Joel is still around, will he shine when given the chance to impress the large Australian audience? Will one of this year's new signings step up to win over the fans early?

Melbourne's in a tough position, having finished 2nd in their domestic league they are currently in the midst of the playoffs, having won the first leg of their semifinal match last week. They now have to contend with the massive jet lag that comes with a flight to Beijing, as well as winter conditions in Beijing. Despite all this, the manager has declared they won't sit back and play defense, instead they will play an attacking squad and go for the win, though how they turn out on the field will show how true he is to his word.

So there you have it, we'll probably see part 1 of the Tao/Xu experiment in midfield and how it works. Considering Guoan has yet to play a league match, expect team work to be a little spotty, but with a month to go before the start of the season, there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to go all out and seeing how hot Yang Zhi was in the recent East Asian Championship, Guoan will always have him to hold things up. The only team news is that Lang Zheng will be out, serving a two match ban, making it all the more likely we'll see Ross for the first time in the green and white tonight.

With no Chinese team advancing out of the group stage last year, Guoan (and the others) should be pumped up for a better showing to help China save face, it starts tonight, let's go Guoan!

all posts cross posted at Beijing Football.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is It All Worth It?

There is a lot to talk about these days regarding Beijing Guoan: the squad's new players, including one of the league's top scorers last year, Otto, and the exciting young player, Wang Xiaolong, as well as the potential addition of "China's Beckham", Xu Liang, and the Griffiths trifecta now that Joel has officially signed for the squad and brother Adam, a defender, is on trial with the side. That's not what I'm talking about today, and honestly, I'm wondering what the point is even in continuing this blog.

A few weeks back, I taunted those who want to talk about corruption, at the time, the arrests and questioning seemed fairly limited and didn't appear significant, however today the appearance is far different. With the removal of Nan Yong and Yang Yimin and the two being called in for questioning (as well as former Shanghai manager Jia Xiuquan), and with the likes of even China Daily discussing their possible execution, one wonders what to make of Chinese soccer these days. Less than 10 years since the black whistle scandal that rocked Chinese soccer, this current one seems to go even deeper and be even more problematic. It appeared that Chinese soccer had cleaned up its image in recent years and was past that scandal, but now those reforms seem only face deep, and the internal problems that led to that scandal have only continued to fester.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the fans), the extent of the police investigation and what exactly they are investigating or charging has been largely kept under wraps. How deep this scandal goes is completely unknown and with little more than a month before a new domestic season begins, the police investigation must be wrapped up before the 2010 CSL season kicks off. How can fans be expected to commit themselves to watching another season, to "live and die" over matches that could very well be fixed. It is hard watching nightly news coverage of Beijing Guoan while knowing a police investigation into the very highest level of the CFA is going on. Perhaps this corruption and match fixing can be used to explain why China's national team is so bad. Perhaps the change at the top of the CFA, combined with the current investigation, will revolutionize soccer in China.

Is there reason for optimism? Realistically, no. Until we know the extent of the corruption, its easy to imagine it as all encompassing and it truly casts a pall on the upcoming season.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye Yang Xiongdi!

There was a friendly between China and Jordan the other day, but I find it too boring and meaningless to discuss here, so let's get to the important news. Yang Pu, a true all around player, a captain and leader, and member of the China national team, is to announce his retirement today, the summation of a 12 year career with Guoan and before that, time with junior sides in the city. Yang was born and raised in Beijing and was Guoan through and through, this year's title victory was the best way for him to go out.

Some reflections of a great career:

We won't see him on the pitch anymore, but he's going to be a part of the Guoan coaching staff next year, so he'll still be around the team he loves.

*photos from Titan Sports

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Champions League Group is Deadly

The Asian Champions League groups are out and they look like this:

Group E
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (KOR), Melbourne Victory (AUS), Beijing Guoan (CHN), Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)

Group F
Kashima Antlers (JPN), Jeonbuk Motors (KOR), Persipura Jayapura (IDN), Changchun Yatai (CHN)

Group G
Henan Jianye (CHN), Gamba Osaka (JPN), Suwon Bluewings (KOR), Play-off East winners

Group H
Adelaide United (AUS), Shandong Luneng (CHN), Cup winners (JPN), Pohang Steelers (KOR)

Okay, I'm only focusing on the East groups and, to be honest, even among them I know very little about the non-Chinese sides, though most writeups talk about Group E as the "group of death". Melbourne's the Aussie league champs, Kawasaki is the J League runners up, and Seongnam is Korea's runners up.

Guoan opens up the campaign at home against Melbourne, so hopefully they'll get off on the right foot. No Chinese squad has an easy go of it, though hopefully at least one will be able to get out of the group stage, unlike this year. Stay tuned as we're 2 months away from the start of the season.

News and Notes

-It seems official, Con gave in and Joel Griffiths will be part of the Guoan squad next year, at the bargain basement loan price of US$350,000.

-For all you trying to figure out the coaching carousel that's going on, Arie Haan signed with Tianjin Teda, while Branko Ivankovic is to head Shandong Luneng, while Miroslav Blazevic is taking charge in Shanghai. It would appear the Changchun and Henan positions have yet to be filled and big names like Lee Jangsoo and Shen Xiangfu (both former Guoan coaches) are still on the market.

-File under hilarious headline, the AFC's website carried an article called "Henan Boss Cancels Chinese New Year to Prepare for ACL." No, she (and yes it is a SHE!) can't unilaterally cancel Chinese New year, but as the holiday falls in the middle of February and the opening match of the Asian Champions League takes place on February 22nd, the GM isn't giving her players the holiday off and instead expects them to be in training over the holiday period.

-I've basically given up hope of scoring tickets to the Guoan victory celebration, it seems they're really cutting out the fans and just holding it for sponsors, I'm sure there will be many who attempt to gate crash and a lot of pissed off people standing outside the National Indoor Stadium.

That's it for today...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

News and Notes

-Guoan's victory celebration will be held at the National Indoor Stadium on December 14th. A time has yet to be set and the ticketing is par for the course in China, instead of giving them directly to the fans, they'll be distributed by the club's sponsors and the media.

-Guoan has a great way of figuring out who to sign for next season, they're going down the scoring leaders from last season and trying to find them. Guangzhou's Ramirez was at the top of the list, but he seems to be courting all parties, talking nicely about Guoan and then stating that he'd prefer going to Shandong.

-In celebration of this year's CSL title, China Post released Guoan commemorative postage stamps and CITIC released a special bottle of Guoan wine.

-Joel Griffiths is returning to Australia for the time being, as the "big swinging dicks" in Beijing and Australia couldn't reach a compromise, though I'd expect we'll see him back in China (most likely Beijing) by the start of next season as he believes playing in China will help him be on the national team squad at the World Cup.

-Speaking of Griffiths, now that Australia is part of Asia, Joel Griffiths' suspension will carry over to the A-League and so therefore he'll be available to play at the start of the next CSL season.

Corruption, Schmurruption, Let's Talk About Soccer

Chinese soccer has long been an easy target for those looking to talk about what's wrong with sport in China. If sport serves as an allegory for society, than soccer speaks volumes about modern China, with its corrupt, do anything to win attitude. The recent scandal involving Wang Xin, a former GM of the Liaoning side, has brought every news agency out of the wood work and got them talking about Chinese soccer. Never mind that most of the reporters writing these stories have never attended a Chinese league match or that they barely know anything about the state of soccer in China, its a story about corruption and they want it.

I guess I can't blame the reporters, its the headline writers and others who try to sex the story up that deserve my ire. At the same time, too many have made it seem that Chinese soccer is still cancerous, when the story that they're reporting on occurred mostly in Singapore in 2007.

First, there are the problems with what these articles are saying. Again, if sport serves as an analogy to society, than the oft quoted Hong Kong University professor Xu Guoqing's assessment is right on the money. He stated that, "To solve the soccer problem in China you need the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Chinese leaders seem quite serious about fixing this, but there is no way they can under the present regime."

While I'm all for the rule of law and independent judiciaries are a great thing, I don't see how these are the key to solving soccer corruption. It would also seem like you could remove the "soccer" part of that quote and add in any other societal ill in China, and the quote would still work.

And while I don't want to beat up on any one story, the Christian Science Moniter article* not only used the above quote, but also included this bit of brilliance, "So bad has Chinese soccer's reputation become that it is fast losing its popular appeal. Chinese state-owned television stopped broadcasting live games a year ago."

Can you not see my frustration? CCTV stopped showing matches toward the end of last season due to an issue with on field violence. They showed games this season and received large ratings. Also, for a league "that is fast losing its popular appeal", the attendance stats from this season, which would be the envy of all but the most elite European leagues (as well as US NBA or NHL teams), would certainly come as a surprise.

I don't want to talk in depth about the corruption scandal and I've put it off this long because it just feels like old news to me. The perpetrators were in China and it appears some Chinese domestic matches were fixed, but the majority of events were in Singapore. I don't believe that I'm willfully blind on this issue, but I think the league has turned a corner and is, generally, clean. Corruption may have some fiending like a drug addict, there may be some incidents here and there, but overall, we've come a long way since the "Black Whistles" of 2001.

Am I being oversensitive or should we see more intelligent, multisided reporting?