Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Midweek Recap

Bad news out of Beijing's training ground in Xianghe as it seems manager Lee Jangsoo prepared a scrimmage between the first team and the second team, made up of mostly youth teamers and recovering first teamers, and the second team won 3-0.  

After that result, the manager was struck speechless.  Lee being Korean and not completely able to speak in the same language as his players, typically seems fairly stoic on the sidelines and is not one to talk much, but this was particularly bad.  He pretty much ignored the media after practice and said that there wasn't anything to say, the team was embarrassing.

Zhang Yonghai, former team captain and this year one of the assistants, stated that the most important thing was that players like him, Zhou Ting, and a few others get healthy fast and can feature in the lineup.

What was supposed to be a confidence booster after the team's questionable performance in Changsha turned out to be bring up more questions than expected.  The CSL is taking into consideration the Champions League and so scheduled Friday games for its teams leaving them more time to prepare for midweek Champions League games.  This means that Guoan will take on Jiangsu at Gongti Friday, before heading off to Korea for its  Tuesday matchup.

A Friday at Gongti will be a unique experience and is sure to be a ton of fun, but more on that later in the week.  Let's just hope tomorrow's practice is far more productive.

CSL Styles, Part 1

Before the start of the season, the CSL reached an unprecedented deal with Nike for $200 million over 10 years, so the majority of teams have switched to a Nike kit this season, unfortunately almost all follow a strict template with "white armpits" on almost every top. While I'm typically a big fan of Nike kits, these look like they were cobbled together in a month (which is realistically what happened) and make the league look less professional, the opposite of what is desired. Here's a look at what we've seen so far:

Beijing Guoan: I love Guoan, but I've never been a fan of their adidas kits (here's the home kit) as the shade of green (or perhaps its because of the white) never looked as nice as the kelly green they used to wear in their Nike days.

Changchun Yatai: So far we've only seen their home uniforms, which strictly follows the Nike template and is more or less devoid of color, a disappointment because I loved the red, yellow, and black Umbro kits they wore last year.

Changsha Jinde: They've already worn two home kits this season. In their first game, they wore a very odd top with the crest on the right chest, highly unusual. A week later, a collar was added and the crest was on the left side. I definitely prefer their Kappa kits from last year, but at least this one is white armpit free.

Chengdu Blades: I don't love the home kit, but Chengdu is one of the few teams that rejected Nike this year, instead their Umbro kits are ho-hum, but at least stand out as one of the few swooshless offerings.

Chongqing Lifan: We've only seen this solid red home kit (with white armpits) so far this season. Not a good choice, but when you're just back in the top flight, you have to go with the flow.

Dalian Shide: Another brave swoosh rejecter, the boys in China's soccer city turn out in this home strip, staying true to their typical colors and only changing to the most recent adidas template (the same as Guoan). Of note, as of yet, they've yet to find a kit sponsor and are playing with blank fronts.

Guagzhou Baiyunshan: We've only seen their change kit so far, but because they were a Nike team last season, it appears they are avoiding the white armpit template and instead going with a little nicer design.

Hangzhou Greentown: two different home kits, there is the green with piping and white armpits, then there is this white collar, solid version. Not sure if its a long sleeve, short sleeve thing, but it looks really bad when the team comes on the pitch wearing two different kits. Not sure what to say, their Kappa kits last year weren't much better, but the two different kits makes it look extremely amateurish.

Henan Jianye: The last of the swoosh avoiders, Henan's Umbro home kit is a big "meh" for me.

Jiangsu Sainty: The champions of China's lower division last year are now playing with the big boys and are the only team we've seen both a home and a change strip from. Both are strictly new Nike template kits, though the change may be a little better with its collar.

Qingdao Zhongneng: Their change strip is pretty strict to the Nike template, though at least its not a solid white like so many other teams (this one has red armpits) and I'm not sure how I feel about the large sponsor's name under the badge. However, compared to this Kappa outfit, I actually think it may be an improvement.

Shaanxi Zhongxin: We've only seen their change strip so far, should we just call them Brazil? That said, this Mizuno uniform from last year isn't much better.

Shandong Luneng: They are another longtime Nike squad, and this year's home kit doesn't look much different from last year, except for the large sponsor name under the badge (ala their fellow Shandong team, Qingdao).

Shanghai Shenhua: Another long term Nike team, whose home kit looks like this (another view). The only major change from last year is the sponsor on the front (can't make out this year's very clearly) and the addition to the club's website to the back.

Shenzhen: Here's the home Nike kit, one of the only one that doesn't follow the template, but does have a strange white shoulder pads thing going on. The subliminal pattern on the front kinda sorta reminds me of this. This former league champion went through 2 different kits (and 2 different sponsors) last year and is one of the only ones that may have benefited from the Nike switch.

Tianjin Teda: Finally the team at the top of the table so far, Tianjin's change strip, all we've seen so far, isn't the worst, but is a little too simple for me.

So there's a look at what we've seen from all 16 teams so far this season, I'll update this when we start to see more of the change strips as well as showing what the 4 clubs in the Asian Champions League are wearing in the next few weeks.

Matchday 2 Recap

Matchday 2 offered a lot less scoring than its first incarnation and some more surprises.  While I did pretty crappy on my predictions, as the season moves on and things start to become clear, I should be doing a lot better.

Dalian Shide 1 - 0 Henan Jianye : WRONG
Zhao Mingjian opened up Dalian's home campaign on a positive note by scoring the matches only goal to help them win 1-0.  My 1-1 prediction was a bit off.

Shandong Luneng 1 - 0 Shaanxi Zhongxin : RIGHT
I was a little surprised with how Shaanxi didn't come out to play.  Shandong dominated their home opener and had a number of chances, Lebanese midfielder Antar knocked in the difference maker in the 57th minute toe seal the game.  Original prediction Shandong 2 - 1 Shaanxi.

Chengdu Blades 1 - 0 Shanghai Shenhua : WRONG
I was wrong about this match, but happily so, by far this was my favorite result of the weekend, it almost makes up for Du Wenhui's error.  You see, there's nothing I love more than seeing Shanghai lose as I really, really hate Shanghai.  I also really hate Mao Jianqing, seeing him miss time and again and blow chances made me extremely happy.

Chongqing Lifan 1 - 1 Qingdao Zhongneng : RIGHT
The only game I nailed, Guinee scored his 2nd goal of the CSL campaign to lead the league in scoring off a corner kick in the 11th minute, this guy's going to be pretty unstoppable throughout the season even though his team will be horrible.  Qingdao's equalizer came from Li Taiyong just before halftime.

Jiangsu Sainty 0 - 1 Changchun Yatai : WRONG
Jiangsu is very unlucky not to have a point, they played hard against Shanghai Shenhua and in their home opener they had a lot of chances, but just couldn't put one away.  They even had a penalty kick that was missed, these are opportunities that they'll need to put away if they want to stay up.  Changchun capitalized on Jiangsu's weak attack knocking in a header off a set piece to win the match.  I said 1-nil to Jiangsu, in fact it turned out the other way, if they don't turn things around its going to be a long season as they are now the only team without a point.

Shenzhen 1 - 2 Guangzhou Baiyunshan : WRONG
I got the score right, but had the wrong team winning as Shenzhen failed to repeat their impressive performance in the season's opening game.  Guangzhou's goals came off of 2 headers, 1 late in the first half and the other late in the 2nd sandwiching a 2nd half Shenzhen goal.  Xu Liang scored the winning goal for Guangzhou, securing them the first of the year's Guangdong derbies.

Hangzhou Greentown 0 - 2 Tianjin Teda : RIGHT
Tianjin continued their success with a 2-nil win at Hangzhou with a goal n the 20th minute off a Mao Biao cross into the box and a scramble in which Wang Xinxin finally put the ball in the net, Cao Yang killed the game in the 86th minute off a sweet goal giving Tianjin the win.  A 2-0 scoreline would appear to be a one-sided drubbing, but reality was far different with chance after chance falling to Hangzhou players who simply couldn't put the ball in the net.  Tianjin remains at the top of the league, with a perfect record so far.

Changsha Jinde 0 - 0 Beijing Guoan : WRONG
Du Wenhui, must I say more?!?

A pretty miserable first week, getting only 3 out of the 8 matches right.

Why Support the CSL?

I hear this question all the time from people around me. No matter how little Chinese people know about football, they understand that the Chinese national team is horrible and, as an extension, the CSL is pretty bad. This is not necessarily incorrect, but at the same time, the CSL, as a league, isn't so bad. When it comes to standards of Asian football, I really hope I'm not eating my words with this, but I believe at least 2 of the Chinese squads will do fairly respectable in the (Asian) Champions League and the CSL isn't far off some of the smaller leagues in Europe or the North American setup.

Sure, the CSL will never match up to the quality of play in England, Italy, or Spain. These games are on regular or pay tv in China on a weekly basis, meaning the Chinese football fan has a buffet of offerings on a weekly basis. If they can watch the best, week in week out, why support the (proverbial) worst?

The answer is simple, I have friends in Beijing who absolutely love Liverpool, who live an die by their weekly results. Except they've never been to Anfield, never been to Liverpool, never even been in the UK before. How can you feel so attached to a club that is thousands of miles away, without the first hand experience, without the group feeling? You can sit in the Den and watch a Liverpool match sitting in your jersey and scarf, maybe even find a few other Liverpool supporters around you or someone supporting the other team, but wouldn't it be more fun to just cross the street and sit inside a stadium and watch a match live?

And as a lover of football in general, especially if you want to see Chinese football improve, it requires supporting it, however indirectly it is to support the CSL. Perhaps its just me, but I'd much prefer going to Gongti and watching a crappy nil-nil draw between 2 CSL squads over watching an awesome 2-1 Premier League match alone on my couch in Beijing. As China is a huge country, you won't come across away supporters that often, but in almost every case, there will be games that you'll see a few hundred there. In Beijing, supporters of Tianjin, Shandong, and Henan will definitely show up in the capital and there are sure to be some other surprise away supporters in town.

Because of this, I've enjoyed the experience of just "being a fan", whether it be watching games in Beijing, Changchun, or Shanghai or in other cities around the world where I've stopped in and taken a look at the local game. It's interesting to see how Chinese supporters clubs are like their foreign counterparts and how different they are, how alike they are to other Chinese team supporters clubs.

Its about supporting the league, supporting the city, and having fun amongst other guys who are just looking to be a part of the crowd for 2 hours while drinking a beer, eating a chuanr, and hoping the home team pulls out 3 points.

Anyways, that's my plea for people to give the CSL a shot.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Matchday 2 Review : Changsha Jinde

Du Wenhui, I'm going to have a hard time forgiving you...

But let's save that disappointment for a little later.

The Jinde club, whether in Changsha or Shenyang, has always struggled to get fans. Yesterday's match saw around 1,000 fans show up, of which at least 100 were the drummers who created an "atmosphere" and were employees of Jinde (the drummers are another holdover from Shenyang).

So we saw a head-to-head between Yang Zhi and Song Zhenyu, two of the Chinese national team keepers. The Guoan lineup featured minimal changes from last week's setup, the only switches were Lang Zheng in for Paul and Emil Martinez getting the start, meaning that Lee Jangsoo started out with Yan Xiangchuang on the bench.

Early on, both teams had some decent chances, each had a corner, but nothing came of it. Of note is that Martinez stepped up to take corners on the left side instead of Huang Bowen, who was taking all the corners in the past. The best chance of the half fell to Martinez in the 33rd minute, but the defender was able to recover and block his shot. The first half was a fairly boring, fairly typical CSL affair, not much doing by either side. I must say, Changsha was utterly pathetic on free kicks, I think every one got blocked by Guoan's wall. At the same time, Zhang Xinxin deserves particular praise for some of his moves coming up on the wing.

At the half it just didn't seem like Beijing's squad was on the same page, the announcers regularly wondered if Martinez was jet lagged or if it was language problems or if he just hasn't been given enough time to mesh with his new teammates, but blame can't be solely placed on him as the squad in general seemed a little out of sorts.

Only minutes into the 2nd half, Lee subbed Wang Changqing and put on Yan Xiangchuang. Many of the early opportunities fell to Changsha in the 2nd half. The 55th minute saw some lazy defending by Guoan lead to a nice breakaway opportunity for Changsha, only for the Beijing defense to recoup, while 10 minutes later Changsha put the ball in the net, though a foul was called on the forward for taking down Xu Yunlong. As the game progressed, it seemed that legs got tired and the field became wide open as both teams were getting more chances. Lee tried to take advantage of that by subbing out Ryan Griffiths and putting on the aforementioned Du.

Madness began around the 70th minute, Changsha got a great opportunity, though Yang came up with a good save off a header, moments later Beijing went on the attack, a botched clearance fell to Martinez, who didn't pull the trigger in time. Then disaster struck, an idiotic refereeing call saw Joel Griffiths see red. I will be the first to admit that it was a foul, probably not for the light push on the defender, but for his going into the Changsha keeper. I'd go as far as saying a yellow card wouldn't be undeserved for the play, but a straight red? For minimal contact? In the last 10 minutes of the game?!? That's some straight up bullshit!

I've talked about how Guoan has shown a great spirit to go for the jugular at the end of games and this one was no different. Even going down a man, the team continued going forward, attempting a great planned set piece play a few minutes later, though the cross was cleared easily. A lot of lying around and "injuries" on Changsha's part to run out the clock and secure a point, but then in extra time, Martinez beat his defender and found himself in space, the keeper goes for the ball and misses, Martinez puts a centering pass to Du who is wide open inside the 6 yard box with nothing but time, a simple tap in and its 1-nil to the Green Lions, but he knocks it off the freaking cross bar, a few minutes later the referee blows for full time and a disappointing result for our boys in green.

Afterwords, Griffiths was still incredulous about how his move on the keeper could be considered a red card. He also complained how Changsha played defensively from the start, though Guoan was able to come up with a few options. Coach Lee had plenty to say after the game, with some harsh criticism of Huang Bowen, stating "if he plays like that again, I'm definitely not going to start him." Huang put a lot of pressure on himself as this was a homecoming for him and him and Martinez never clicked.

Du was definitely disappointed after the game, reassuring me of what kind of player he is and how much he cares. He stated, "The fact that 3 points turned into 1 can be blamed entirely on me" and that he "didn't feel like eating, couldn't eat, I'm depressed over that shot, despite all the goals I've scored in the past, I have no feeling, this one, this was the reason we failed to win today." Lee tried comforting him and said that anyone can make a mistake like this, Du's one to take the blame and will use this to improve himself in the future.

What can I say, that close to 6 points and first place. If Guoan wants to win the title this year, they'll need to win against mediocre clubs on the road. It's still early days, and we're still sitting in 2nd. Hopefully more practice time together will help the teamwork come along, a short break this week as the team has a Friday fixture at Gongti, should be a fun night. Let's hope coming back home will help get these guys on track.

photos and quotes from Sina Sports

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Matchday 2 Preview: Changsha Jinde

After another Saturday of football, Guoan will go to battle on Sunday afternoon, this time around though, they'll be the only game around.  Some very interesting results in today's matches, hopefully Beijing will be able to stay strong.  It's still early days, but a win would keep them tied at the top spot with Tianjin, who won today.  

Lots of talk during the week, much of it focusing on Paul and his mistakes in the last game, though he says everyone makes mistakes and that he's ready to get back in action and prove himself to the fans.  It's very possible we'll be seeing Lang Zheng start in his place tomorrow. The mood around the team is good and coach Lee Jangsoo is confident his squad will be ready for this one in Changsha.  Unlike a lot of CSL squads, Guoan has experience with a tough away match already, having played in Japan in the Champions League.

A little injury news as Yang Zhi was banged up a bit in training, though most likely he'll still be between the pipes tomorrow.  Zhou Ting is still recovering, though its unlikely we'll see him for a few more weeks, though Zhang Yonghai is looking good and could feature in the squad in the very near future.  Emil Martinez has continued to progress in practice and it wouldn't be surprising if Lee decides to split up the Griffiths brothers up top for this one.

Personally, it hasn't been the best of weeks for me, a Guoan victory would go a long way in making things a bit happier around here.  Last year, Guoan managed to get 4 points off of Changsha (a draw in Changsha, a win in Beijing), Changsha's squad isn't quite as good as last year, especially without Chen Tao leading the way and this contest is ripe for 3 points.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Matchday 2 League Preview

The first edition of picks sure to go wrong starts now:

3.28  15:00     Dalian Shide - Henan Jianye 
Henan opened strong, while Dalian will want to make up for their tough loss when they open at home, however, they don't seem to have the tools, a 1-1 fight between the squads is what I predict.

3.28  15:10     Shandong Luneng - Shaanxi Zhongxin 
Shandong remains at home to take on Shaanxi in what could be the best match of the day.  Can Shandong make up for the loss of Zhou Haibin in the off-season?  Who is going to step up for them?  Can Shaanxi make the step to the next level?  This game could help answer some of those questions.  Prediction: Shandong 2 - 1 Shaanxi

3.28  15:30     Chengdu Blades - Shanghai Shenhua
Chengdu welcomes Shanghai to town as they open up their season at home, I predict lots of talk about how Chengdu is percervering after the earthquake and the hated Shanghai cruising to a victory.  Prediction: Chengdu 0 - 2 Shanghai

3.28  15:30     Chongqing Lifan - Qingdao Zhongneng
After what I saw of Chongqing in Beijing, they do have a dangerous side to them, mainly through their big man up top Guinee.  Qingdao is a midtable squad that will meet their match in this one.  Prediction: Chongqing 1-1 Qingdao

3.28 15:30     Jiangsu Sainty - Changchun Yatai
Changchun opened up disappointingly while Jiangsu lost in a late shocker.  It will be interesting to see if newly promoted Jiangsu will continue punching above their weight in their home opener.  Prediction: Jiangsu 1 - 0 Changchun

3.28  15:30     Shenzhen - Guangzhou Baiyunshan
It's derby day in Shenzhen as these two Guangdong squads do battle.  These are two of the league's younger teams featuring a lot of players that are sure to have gone up against each other a lot in local Guangdong youth matches and so its going to be interesting.  Shenzhen was impressive in their first game and I think they'll continue their tactics and wear down Guangzhou to come away with the win.  Prediction: Shenzhen 2 - 1 Guangzhou

3.28  19:30     Hangzhou Greentown - Tianjin Teda
The night's only match will be an interesting test for Hangzhou, as they'll be facing one of the league's premier squads.  Tianjin will be facing its first road challenge, but it shouldn't have a great effect on them.  Prediction:  Hangzhou 1 - 3 Tianjin

3.29  15:30     Changsha Jinde - Beijing Guoan
The only Sunday start, allowing Guoan to feature on national tv as they head to Hunan.  Changsha doesn't have the guns and Guoan have shown themselves to be strong in these early days.  Because I don't want to tempt fate and sound overconfident, I'm going to tone down my choice.  Prediction: Changsha 0 - 2 Beijing

Matchday 1 League Recap

Yes, it took me a week to complete this.  Yes, I'm extremely lazy.  Yes, it wont take a week next time around.

Here goes:
Henan Jianye 2 - 1 Guangzhou Baiyunshan
The season kicked off in Zhengzhou with an interesting opening ceremony, a huge crowd, and the home team coming out on top.  A goal in the first half by Brazilian, Netto, opened up the scoring, but Guangzhou came back with an early second half goal in the 53rd minute, though less than 5 minutes later Henan once again took the lead and this time held on to it.

Shandong Luneng 1 - 1 Shenzhen
This had to be the shocker of matchday 1 as Shenzhen, a squad that narrowly avoided relegation, was able to earn a point at last year's champions.  Shenzhen took the lead in the 70th minute off of an Yin Xiaolong goal, though the hosts were able to avoid embarrassment when substitute Lu Zheng equalized 10 minutes later.

Shaanxi Zhongxin 2 - 0 Chengdu Blades
Shaanxi had a very workmanlike victory over the Chengdu squad with 2 second half goals.  One even set up by that most hated of Chinese footballers, Li Yi.

Changsha Jinde 0 - 0 Changchun Yatai
A great result for Changsha, a bad start for Changchun, a snorefest for everyone else.

Hangzhou Greentown 2 -1 Qingdao Zhongneng
Hangzhou scored the quickest goal so far when Otto put it in just 2 minutes after kick off, though Qingdao was able to equalize before the end of the first half.  However, just a few minutes into the 2nd half, Hangzhou took the lead.  Hangzhou was able to hold onto the lead, despite some close calls in the 2nd half.

Tianjin Teda 4 - 1 Dalian Shide
In what could truly be a changing of the guard in Chinese football, Tianjin decimated Dalian, scoring 4 times and perhaps symbolizing their ascendance into the top tier of Chinese football while Dalian continues to fade away.  Mao Biao kicked off the scoring for Tianjin and also assisted on a goal by Hao Junmin.

Shanghai Shenhua 2 - 1 Jiangsu Sainty
In what was a very boring game early, the two teams did a lot to make it interesting at the end. Newly promoted Jiangsu went ahead in the 76th minute off of a header by Carlos, making it look like we might see a great upset, though Shanghai (unfortunately) was able to equalize in the 87th and then go ahead in the 91st off of a goal from Shen Longyan to seal a victory.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Matchday 1 CSL Top XI

Put together by Soccer News, here is Matchday 1's top players. The newspaper picked a 343 lineup that features 3 Guoan players:

Zong Lei (Changchun Yatai)

Xu Yunlong (Beijing Guoan)
Nikolaev (Shenzhen)
Cao Yang (Tianjin Teda)

Shen Longyuan (Shanghai Shenhua)
Huang Bowen (Beijing Guoan)
Yin Xiaolong (Shenzhen)
Hao Junmin (Tianjin Teda)

Otto (Hangzhou Greentown)
J. Griffiths (Beijing Guoan)
Netto (Henan Jianye)

Matchday 1 Review : Chongqing Lifan


After watching many of the other sides open up this 6th season of the Chinese Super League, it was finally Guoan's chance Sunday night. In front of a big crowd of 38,000 supporters, the Green Lions didn't let their fans down.

A few minor changes were made to the lineup that earned a draw in Japan, this time Lee Jangsoo set out a 442 using Yang Zhi between the pipes, Zhang Xinxin, Xu Yunlong, Paul, and Matic at the back, Huang Bowen, Yang Xiangchuang, Wang Changqing, and Lu Jiang in the midfield, and the fabulous Griffiths brothers up top. Chongqing responded with a 451 that didn't produce much more than a few decent counterattacks.

Guoan played hard and controlled the ball early and were rewarded with a great goal when Xu Yunlong played in a beautiful pass that Joel Griffiths buried in the back of the net only 14 minutes in, though the celebrations came too fast as only a minute later, Costa Rican Guinee knocked home a goal to equalize.

At the half, sitting on a 1-1 draw, I feared I made the wrong decision coming to the game as there wasn't too much action. Having seen some of the other scores from the weekend, I was worried Guoan wouldn't be able to put the game away, though they continued to control the ball in the 2nd half and 52 minutes on Xu Yunlong gave us the go-ahead goal knocking in a loose ball in the box. Just a bit later, Guoan knocked in another one, though the referee called it off due to a foul. Huang Bowen made up for it slotting in a penalty kick in the 84th minute on a play where there were at least 2 fouls, one on Ryan Griffiths and another on Wang Changqing in the box. The play was set up by Guoan's big transfer pickup, Martinez, who only recently arrived in Beijing and came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute.

So a fine 3-1 win, capped off once again with a late goal, it seems like Lee's strategy is always to go for the win and so far its paid off, with 2 late goals in 2 games (and a close call or 2 in Japan).

In his postgame press interview, Lee had a lot of good things to say about Martinez and was also complimentary about Chongqing and their coach, Wei Xin, who played under Lee during his stint as a coach of Chongqing during the late 90s.

After the game, Huang Bowen stated confidently that although Guoan scored 3 goals, this wasn't the best football they could have played, and in the weeks to come there will be more to see. A number of players talked about nerves as this was the first home game and the large crowd in attendance.

The biggest sticking point was Guoan's Cameroonian defender, Paul. His mistake is what led to Chongqing's goal and there were a few times where he seemed unable to handle Guinee, leading to some dangerous moments whenever Guinee had the ball. He was up for some sharp criticism from the manager after the match, Lee stating that if Paul would have stood his ground instead of going for the header, it is unlikely Chongqing would have gotten the goal, however the manager also praised how he was able to recover from the error.

While this may lead to worry as the season moves on, on the day, it was a minor blip in an overall celebratory atmosphere. The talk this year is that this is the "Dragon team" (龙队) as Xu Yunlong is assuming the captaincy, and our captain sure came through last night with a man of the match performance. A nice warming win on what turned out to be a very cold night at Gongti.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Match 1 Preview - Chongqing Lifan

The wait is over, all the talk no longer matters, and many other cliches, the season begins tonight at Gongti.  Beijing comes into this game having performed impressively in two Asian Champions League matches and with expectations of the fans that this will finally be their year.  Chongqing is a squad with very different expectations, after having gone down in 2007, they were able to make the move back up finishing 2nd in the lower division, besting Ba Yi by only 1 point in a tight promotion battle.  They are without any big names and will have to work hard and get a little lucky if they want to stay in the top flight this year.

As a Guoan supporter its hard not to be optimistic about this year's season and especially the team's return to Gongti.  The team is a solid mix of veterans like Xu Yunlong and Tao Wei while also featuring maturing youngsters like Yan Xiangchuang and Huang Bowen, who hopefully will finally step up and earn their star status.  The addition of the Australian Griffiths brothers has already paid dividends.

Tonight Gongti is sure to be alive, the Champions League match saw over 30,000 fans in attendance, hopefully tonight will see another strong attendance.  I've been debating back and forth all week but have decided to skip my basketball game so that I can be at Gongti, a difficult decision indeed.  I watched the league's "opening ceremony" last night from Zhengzhou and will probably catch the 3pm match today, I'm already getting excited and really look forward to this evening.  The weather in Beijing has been great lately and there's nothing like nice spring weather and expectations for a new season to make me happy.