Monday, May 25, 2009

Note to the Readers

Yes, I know.  There are very few of you out there, I know this, and I know I'm alienating you by not posting for the week, but I've had more pressing matters that have kept me away from Guoan, and it seems to have brought the team a spot of luck as they handled Qingdao like they should and Shandong's draw meant they move into first place going into the 1st international break of the season, it wasn't pretty, but they got there.

Part of the problem is the great firewall's decision to once again block blogspot (why oh why did I choose blogspot?!?).  For those who still want to find this blog, it will always be cross posted at  Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Matchday 9 Preview : Shenzhen

6 points.

That's what the next week is about. 3 points tonight and 3 points a week from Sunday. Guoan has what is arguably its easiest run of games (though Nagoya Grampus 8 is stuck in between) this week and next, facing off against Shenzhen and Qingdao, both at home. If Beijing wants to be a title contender, its pretty simple, you. must. win. these. matches. When you play weaker teams, especially one like Shenzhen with only one win, its simple, get 3 points.

After the huge win last weekend and today's match, we should be talking about football, but instead, we're talking about a text message. What you say? That's right, a f!@^# SMS sent to a Beijing reporter by a member of the Beijing coaching staff is at the center of newspaper reports these days.

I don't want to discuss that, I don't think its a big deal and its between Wei Kexing (the coach involved) and the reporters, hopefully this issue will be removed from the locker room and the players won't have it in their minds. This is part of the problem with the media blackout in the locker room that Guoan called for a few weeks ago, it means reporters aren't getting what they want and perhaps its led to some negative coverage.

Anyways, to the match, as of right now its not raining in the capital, though the skies are threatening, we'll see what happens tonight, but bad weather could favor Shenzhen, as it will slow down the match and our speedy side. In the CSL era, Guoan only lost to Shenzhen twice, with both of those losses coming during Shenzhen's 2004 championship season. Since then, they've earned 5 wins and 3 draws, this year should be no different.

I'm fairly confident about this one, its going to be interesting what kind of lineup Lee puts out considering the suspensions/injuries and what he used in Changchun. I hope the guys take this one seriously, yes, they should win it, though we've seen before how a team like Shenzhen can sneak up on you (just ask Shandong), so hopefully they will keep focused and play like last week.

T minus 3 hours to kick off!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

CSL Matchday 9 Preview

We have a big day of football today and once again are treated to 3 days of football with the first match kicking off in less than an hour. Right now I'm at 29-27 for the season, hopefully this week will be a big winner for me as we're finally starting to see signs that the teams are separating. Here goes:

5.15 15:30 Guangzhou Baiyunshan - Shandong Luneng
Guangzhou's coming off a difficult loss last weekend in Chengdu, whereas Shandong won big against a very strong side. How will Guangzhou recover from that? This Guangzhou side is strong and they should be near the top of the table, but Shandong is fighting to repeat and they have the horses. Guangzhou needs a solid home performance, but I don't think they have the skill at the end of the day. Prediction: Guangzhou 1-2 Shandong.

5.15 19:30 Beijing Guoan - Shenzhen
Full preview to be up in an hour, should be an easy one for Guoan, especially after the Changchun victory, but they can't take the foot off the pedal. Prediction: Guoan 3-0 Shenzhen.

5.15 19:30 Tianjin Teda - Shanghai Shenhua
What can I say about this one? It's definitely the match of the day (though Guangzhou-Shandong should be exciting) though both teams need to regroup from some recent weak performances. It seems there are some problems within the Shanghai camp, it will be interesting to see if they can patch things up, this should be fairly even, though if it starts to rain, things could get wild. Prediction: Tianjin 1-1 Shanghai.

5.16 14:30 Dalian Shide - Chengdu Blades
Chengdu's coming off a big win while Dalian lost last week. Chengdu, I think I have pegged pretty fairly as a relegation candidate, Dalian is a middle of the table side, that potentially could be in the top half, namely due to its attackers like Ahn Junghwan and Zhao Xuri, though Chengdu can surprise some teams. If they win this one, Dalian's in trouble. Prediction: Dalian 1-0 Chengdu.

5.16 16:00 Qingdao Zhongneng - Changchun Yatai
Changchun goes on the road hoping to regain their mojo after getting trounced by Beijing; Qingdao has a rare home match and has some threats, namely Qu Bo, who can be explosive. However, I think Changchun shouldn't have a problem and will cruise to an easy win. Prediction: Qingdao 0-2 Changchun.

5.16 19:30 Henan Construction - Shaanxi Zhongxin
A decent primetime affair with Shaanxi going to Zhengzhou to battle a Henan side looking for a win after going down to Shandong last week. The "Northwestern Wolves" are capable of poaching points from time to time, expectations may have been a little higher at the start, but this team will stay safe, but not do much more. Henan, on the other hand, is a top side and should be able to handle this one, especially at home. Prediction: Henan 1-0 Shaanxi.

5.16 19:30 Hangzhou Greentown - Jiangsu Sainty
Can we call this one a derby? Separated only by a few hours train ride and a single point in the table, the crowd in Hangzhou is sure to be pumped up for this one. Jiangsu's been surprisingly consistent, playing hard and always in the game, Hangzhou's a different story though they should be ready for this one, I have a feeling it's going to be a close, close 1 goal game, and I'm going to give it to Jiangsu. Prediction: Hangzhou 0-1 Jiangsu.

5.17 15:30 Chongqing Lifan - Changsha Jinde
CCTV has to be kind of sad that this will be the featured match on Sunday (and why does it seem that Changsha is ALWAYS the Sunday game?!?). Chongqing, sitting bottom of the table, hosts Changsha in what should be a battle between these two sides who are both afraid of relegation. I'm guessing they're going to fight to a stalemate. Chongqing 1-1 Changsha.

Today will be a great day of football, followed by some decent matchups tomorrow and an interesting battle for points on Sunday, enjoy!

Player Profile : Yan Xiangchuang

Yan Xiangchuang - 闫相闯
The vitals:
age - 22
position - midfield
number - 11
height - 174 cm
years with Guoan - 6
appearances - 94
goals - 15
The still very young Yan came to Beijing as a kid prodigy from the Army team (8/1). Originally from Dalian, Yan arrived in the capital as a 16 year old and made his debut the next season, appearing in 13 games and scoring 2 goals, an unbelievable start. Along with teammate Huang Bowen (a year older), Yan was (and still is) viewed as the future of the squad.
Yan's small in stature, but despite that, has a booming shot (just ask Changchun) that he can use from distance to challenge keepers. He's also incredibly fast and uses that speed to create scoring opportunities or open up space on the pitch. Like a lot of Guoan's current crop of players, he's adaptable, able to play as a forward, an attacking midfielder, or on the wing (which is where he's most often slotted). While he can play up top, his size and body mean that he is far more suited for the midfield.
He was one of the stars of China's miserable 2008 Olympic squad and has featured occasionally for the national team, many feel he will be a prominent member of the squad over the next few years. The national team's future depends heavily on how players like Yan continue to develop over the next 2-3 years.
In the meantime, Guoan's midfield heavy lineup has meant Yan's struggled to break in, though he's performed well when given the chance and after a strong showing in Australia and his 2 goal show in Changchun, we can expect to see him in the lineup more over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CSL Matchday 8 Recap

We're finally starting to see some separation at the top of the table with Shandong alone on top, though things are still fairly close. With 2 weeks left before the first international break of the season, things will get a little more clear and predictions should become slightly easier. Enough of that, to the action:

Shenzhen 1 - 0 Chongqing Lifan : WRONG
I'm always kinda happy to watch Shenzhen win and this weekend they were able to come up with a home win. Both teams had decent chances in the 1st half, though neither were able to score. Then in the 2nd half, a long throw in (surprisingly lots of throw-in goals this weekend) and a sweet header off it put Shenzen up. Guinee had a number of good opportunities, but couldn't convert. Shenzhen had another chance before the end of the match, what probably should have been a penalty kick, but a non-call. This time around, it didn't matter, as they secured 3 points. Original prediction: Shenzhen 1-1 Chongqing.

Chengdu Blades 2 - 1 Guangzhou Baiyunshan : WRONG
Hmm...I wasn't so serious about the "spirit of Wenchuan" in my review, but they definitely played that aspect up before the match and it worked, Chengdu having seized on this and played one of the best games they've played all year. That spirit led to them jumping out right away and scoring in the first 10 minutes, they followed it up with a goal 5 minutes into the 2nd half, and all Guangzhou could muster was a late goal to make things look a little closer. Original prediction: Chengdu 0-2 Guangzhou.

Changsha Jinde 1 - 0 Hangzhou Greentown : WRONG
This was more of what you'd expect from Changsha, though the win was a little surprising. They jumped out to the lead 6 minutes into the match through their Korean pair, and from there, they focused on defense the rest of the game, with total shots for both sides combined still remaining in single digits, a surprise that this side is still moving up the table. Original prediction: Changsha 0-0 Hangzhou.

Jiangsu Sainty 2 - 1 Dalian Shide : RIGHT
Jiangsu's a plucky side that wants to not only stay up, but impress, and they did this week. A great free kick chance early that was foiled led to another free kick moments later and this time Jiangsu put it away to start a frenetic 10 minutes of football. 3 minutes after the Jiangsu goal, Zhao Xuri responded with a nice header off a free kick to equalize, though 7 minutes later, Jiangsu took back the lead, again off a free kick, this time with a header better than Zhao's. Jiangsu had multiple great chances the rest of the match, but hit posts or were just wide, Ahn alone had 2 good chances for Dalian in the 2nd half, but was unable to convert. Then there was the crazy ending, where 4 yellow cards and 2 reds were shown (one red for each team) in the last 10 minutes, in what ended as a very rough affair. Original prediction: Jiangsu 2-1 Dalian.

Shaanxi Zhongxin 0 - 1 Tianjin Teda : RIGHT
It was a wet day in Xian and it turned out to be a sad one too as the home side couldn't keep the magic they had 2 weeks ago against Guoan and instead were simply outplayed by a Tianjin side. Teda had a number of excellent chances, including a controversial call 10 minutes in when Hao Junmin was called offside. They dominated 1st half chances, though were unable to score. Shaanxi played a little better in the 2nd, with a few decent chances, but Tianjin was finally able to score 2 minutes from time when the keeper came up with the 1st save, but gave up a rebound which Tianjin put away. Original prediction: Shaanxi 0-1 Tianjin.

Changchun Yatai 2 - 6 Beijing Guoan : RIGHT
For the full write-up, go here. A beautiful day! Original prediction: Changchun 0-1 Beijing.

Henan Construction 1 - 3 Shandong Luneng : RIGHT
In another high scoring game, again in rainy weather, it was an interesting clash between 2 sides tied for top spot. Olisadebe had a number of chances for Henan, and although he was able to set up Henan's 1st goal, I bet he rues those misses. Shandong had a sudden burst of action a little after the hour mark, scoring the 1st goal off a beautiful long shot that Henan claimed didn't cross the line, followed up by a Han Peng flying header that has to be one of the goals of the season, knocked in just minutes later. Antar killed off any hope the home fans may have had in extra time, putting the game on ice. Original prediction: Henan 1-2 Shandong.

Shanghai Shenhua 1 - 1 Qingdao Zhongneng : WRONG
Any weekend Shanghai loses (or in this case doesn't win) is a happy one for me, and this time around it was especially sweet as Guoan was able to jump over them in the standings. There were plenty of chances for both sides, though Shanghai especially had a fair number of bad mistakes. Qingdao struck first in the 71st minute off a decent shot, but nothing too challenging and surprisingly they kept up the pressure, coming close a few more times. However, in the end it was a long throw in to a wide open Mao Jianqing, massively blown defense on Qingdao's part, who knocked in a header just before the game's conclusion. This Shanghai team has some serious problems, especially considering this was a home performance. Original Prediction: Shanghai 2-0 Qingdao.

So some surprises means I go 4-4 yet again, putting the season total at 29-27. More Friday football this week, I'm ready for a good one.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Matchday 8 Review : Changchun Yatai


How long have we been waiting for this? Okay, maybe it's not a rhetorical question, the obvious answer is since the start of the season. This team went straight up ape shit all upside Changchun's head. 6 goals?!? This Guoan side only had 8 goals coming into this game and yet came up with 6 in this single effort.

The results came right from the start, despite keeping 8 players in Beijing midweek, 5 players who made the trip to Australia still featured in yesterday's lineup. Yang Pu, Paul, Ryan Griffiths, Yan Xiangchuang, and of course, Yang Zhi, all remained in the Guoan lineup this week, with the addition of Martinez, Zhang Xinxin, Tao Wei, Yang Hao, Matic, and Zhang Yonghai.

Changchun came out of the gate motivated in front of a decent home crowd and had a great chance, which Yang Zhi just barely was able to parry wide. Guoan was equal to Changchun's attack, responding with a Martinez shot from outside the box that went just high. The shot was a harbinger of things to come, with Guoan finally deciding to challenge the keeper with longer shots from outside the box, where up until this game, more often than not, they were always trying to work the ball into the box, instead of make sure the keeper stays honest with some long, hard shots.

Shortly after the Martinez shot, Tao Wei played it to Yang Hao, who ripped a shot from the top of the box and into the back of the net. Changchun went back on the attack, but once again Yang Zhi was able to meet the challenge, and started Guoan's response, this time coming from a Griffiths long shot that was nailed upper 90, 2-nil Guoan on 2 great shots from outside the box. Once again, Changchun responded with a strong chance, a breakaway which Yang Zhi shut down. Seriously folks, if Guoan didn't have Yang in net, this side would be absolutely horrible. As was the pattern, Guoan went back down field and well, Martinez was pulled down in the box, should have been a yellow card at least, probably a penalty shot, instead, he was called for offsides and given a yellow card, very strange, but fortunately it didn't matter in the end.

Going into the locker room at the half, Guoan had to be excited about being in the lead, though Changchun threatened a number of times and 2 goals still wasn't going to be enough for comfort. It didn't matter, Beijing came out pumped and ready to kill off the game, going straight at Changchun, this time it was Griffiths again from a little closer this time, but still outside the box, 5 minutes into the 2nd half. Before you knew it, Yan was headed back down the field and got one of his own, to put them up 4-0.

Sui Dongliang, who came on as a 2nd half substitute, added another in the 70th minute to pile onto Changchun. Changchun finally responded 10 minutes later, but it was too little, too late AND it motivated Guoan to get one more, once again it was Yan who stepped up, going all 90 minutes after going 90 midweek in Australia and then flying the 20 hours back to Beijing. Changchun added one more in added time to make the result a little more respectable, but still, 6-2 to Beijing, earning 3 points and the most goals scored in one game by any team in the CSL so far this year.

It's easy to get excited about this result, but I'm staying reserved. I've hoped for this, waited for it, expected it all season long, but only been disappointed. I also got fairly excited after the victory in Chengdu only to be let down with a spell of crappy play. This was only one game, an exciting one, but just one. It was good to see the midfield step up and it was especially good to see that we can win without Huang Bowen and, especially, Joel Griffiths.

I hope this match serves as a turning point and, in theory, it should be relatively smooth sailing, with Shenzhen coming up at Gongti on Friday and then Qingdao (also at home), leading into the 2 week international break. I also think this match answers some questions for Lee, namely Griffiths and Yan are responding to the time they spent out of the lineup, these guys want in and they deserve to continue to start.

Anyways, 3 points in convincing fashion, sitting only 4 points back, finally gives Guoan fans something to celebrate.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

CSL Matchday 8 Previer

Looking forward to an interesting weekend of football? Right now, I'm 25-23 on the season, hoping for a good week this time around, though there are a number of tough games to call. Only 2 matches on Saturday, though a handful of interesting clashes on Sunday. This league is one where parody definitely exists, as things stand right now, only 10 points separate first and last place. Currently, 3 teams are tied at the top of the table, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out over the weekend:

5.9 15:30 Shenzhen - Chongqing Lifan
Here we go, our first game of the week and while it probably won't be a pretty one, its a tough one to call. It's still early days, but this is an important game in the relegation battle, with Shenzhen in dead last on 4 points and Chongqing only a point better. Shenzhen's been struggling a lot lately, after having a good start. Chongqing was able to get a result last week and should be able to get one this week (or at least a draw, damn its tough), especially due to my main man Guinee. Prediction: Shenzhen 1 - 1 Chongqing.

5.9 15:30 Chengdu Blades - Guangzhou Baiyunshan
There's always talk about how sports are important for healing, well, if that's true, then this Chengdu home game, coming just a few days before the 1 year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, should help motivate the squad to get a home win. Unfortunately for Chengdu, they face a team at the opposite end of the table, and Guangzhou will be looking to capitalize as they are definitely making a play for the title. Prediction: Chengdu 0 - 2 Guangzhou.

5.10 15:30 Changsha Jinde - Hangzhou Greentown
Changsha's back at home? What the hell is up with their schedule? Their fans have to be extremely worried as they'll be on the road a ton during the second half of the season. Hangzhou is another team looking to capitalize against a weaker side on paper, and only sit 4 points away from the lead. I don't think Hangzhou has enough, though, to break through Changsha's trap, especially on the road. Prediction: Changsha 0 - 0 Hangzhou.

5.10 15:30 Jiangsu Sainty - Dalian Shide
This is one of the better games on Sunday, as Jiangsu's flying high and playing at home against a Dalian side that can't figure out if they want to be good or not (yet they have earned 12 points). I'm giving the edge to Jiangsu, their defense is solid and should be able to shut down Ahn, even though he's been coming on strong as of late. Jiangsu should be able to poach a goal or two in this one. Prediction: Jiangsu 2 - 1 Dalian.

5.10 15:30 Shaanxi Zhongxin - Tianjin Teda
Which Shaanxi team is going to come to the party? Which Tianjin team? Shaanxi does a solid job of earning results when playing at home, but turns to crap when going on the road. Tianjin will be pumped up having earned their first ever Champions League win in midweek, though this team is too hard to understand, good up front, but weak at the back, anything can happen in this one. Prediction: Shaanxi 0 - 1 Tianjin.

5.10 15:30 Changchun Yatai - Beijing Guoan
>One of the better clashes of the weekend, (tied) top of the table Changchun welcomes Beijing to the Northeast, for a full preview, watch this space. I'm going purely with my heart on this one... Prediction: Changchun 0 - 1 Beijing.

5.10 19:30 Henan Construction - Shandong Luneng
Yet another excellent match, arguably the best of the weekend, these two teams are tied at the top of the table and will be going head to head in Zhengzhou. Henan's attack is strong, but will they be able to deal with Shandong's size, namely Han Peng and Antar? Despite going on the road, Shandong has enough to get by Henan, though it should be close. Prediction: Henan 1 - 2 Shandong.

5.10 19:45 Shanghai Shenhua - Qingdao Zhongneng
Shanghai gets an easy home fixture after a few tough road ones both domestic and internationally. Qingdao is coming off a victory last week, but it would be too much to expect 3 points from them in this one. This match should (argh) help Shanghai get back to winning ways and get them closer to the top in a fighting position for the title. Prediction: Shanghai 2 - 0 Qingdao.

Player Profile : Tao Wei

Tao Wei - 陶伟

The vitals:
age - 31
position - midfield
number - 15
height - 176 cm
years with Guoan - 11
appearances - 238
goals - 36

I feel a little sorry for Tao, who last night was in BTV's studio in Beijing providing commentary, trying to be optimistic and not attacking his teammates who looked utterly useless in the 1st half, knowing he was far away from the action and had no way of influencing the result that led his team with no hope to advance.
Anyways, Tao is another Beijinger who is also a lifelong Guoan player, though he's only come to real prominence over the past 3 or 4 seasons as a star. While he's always been a solid role player, in recent years, his flair and skills have been brought to the forefront, with him earning his first national team cap at the ripe old age of 26.
Tao played youth football in Beijing before joining the legendary Jianlibao youth team that traveled to Brazil in 1994. His Brazilian experience can be seen in the way he plays, possessing a creative streak and instinct rarely seen in Chinese footballers. His ability to improv on the pitch and make something out of nothing is why he's an exciting player who the fans have fully embraced.
He's also extremely adaptable, capable of playing in a number of positions on the pitch, depending on the squad's needs. He can play up top as a forward, but is often best slotted behind them in a support role. While he isn't the quickest player on the pitch, he's capable of handling wing play and, with a familiar central back like Xu Yunlong behind him, he can also fit into the holding midfield position.
Tao served as the side's captain last season and serves as one of Xu's deputies this year. He regularly handles corner and free kicks and is one of the better CSL players at challenging a keeper from distance.
Loyal, hardworking, with (more than) a bit of flair is why Tao Wei is a true Gongti Legend.

Champions League Matchday 6 Recap : Newcastle

6 minutes of sadness/madness

I still don't know how I sat through all 90 minutes of this match. It looked like two sides playing their first game of the season, and for a lot of Guoan players it was indeed their first match (or at least their first match together), while Newcastle only has Champions League games on its schedule right now. It was ugly, very, very ugly, though for 85 minutes of the match, it looked like Guoan's Champions League hopes were still alive.

Before we get into the match, this loss means that Guoan has no chance to advance, Tianjin has already been eliminated, and Shanghai is more or less out (they need to defeat Kashima, a very solid side, and then need Singapore to defeat Suwon or at get a nil-nil draw). A highly disappointing showing for the Chinese sides. The saving face is that Shandong should be able to advance as they face an Indonesian side yet to earn a point, though if FC Seoul defeats Gamba Osaka, there's a chance not even Shandong will move on. This says a lot about Chinese football, especially considering the ease of Guoan's group and the fact they dedicated $20 million to their squad this season. Highly disappointing all around...

Back to the match, and did I mention it was an ugly one? Newcastle controlled the ball for the majority of the 1st half with a number of good chances, fortunately Yang Zhi was once again our savior and came up with a number of great saves. If we didn't have Yang Zhi in the net (and if Newcastle could get a decent challenge on net), it would have been far worse. Guoan only created one chance in the first half, a free kick that fell to Yang Xiangchuang (who was in for Wang Ke, the only change from my proposed pregame lineup) who just couldn't pull the trigger.

There was absolutely no teamwork between the Guoan players, they seemed like complete strangers and it seemed like a number of players were far from match fit. It was a pathetic display of football, but Lee rallied his troops and they came out in the 2nd half and played a lot better, finally attacking a little instead of focusing on stopping Newcastle's attack.

There were some great chances right off the bat, one that should have been a goal if not for the total lack of teamwork as a Guoan player was standing in the box waiting to lay the ball off to his teammate who wasn't expecting the pass despite being wide open. Another a few moments later off a free kick, with a nice head on by Paul to Wang Changqing, who reacted a moment or two too late and knocked it wide. Griffiths was playing some beautiful balls and one in particular fell to Yan, whose shot from a tough angle was wide. A little after the hour mark, Guoan went to the bench, with youngster Yang Yun making his first appearance of the season, coming on for Guo Hui.

Yang instantly made a difference as it appeared he brought some life into the team and it was his sweet pass to Griffiths that saw Guoan go up 1-0 in the 69th minute. After earning the lead, Guoan didn't sit on its heels, creating a few more solid chances. However, during the last 10 minutes, Newcastle brought everyone up the pitch and threatened the keeper more than once. Finally, in the 88th minute, they caught a break when Sasho Petrovski was clearly offside, but the referee completely missed the call.

1-1 and I was fairly flabbergasted, at first blaming it all on Paul, though subsequent replays made it obvious that it was a stone cold offside. 1-1 was not going to be enough for us, and the doom and gloom sunk in, which is probably why we didn't go on the attack. Instead, Newcastle pushed forward for all 3 points, when, boom, a shot from outside the box beat Yang and Newcastle went up 2-1, right before the match was to end.

What can be said? Guoan broke its scoreless streak in this one, after over 320 minutes without scoring, but lost the game in the end. This was a situation where Newcastle couldn't score in a whorehouse for 88 minutes, flubbing shot after shot and being beaten by Yang Zhi to the ball time after time. Who really cares about the Champions League anyways, right? Expect a more in-depth write up on that front, perhaps instead of the matchday 6 preview, but this failure is just too bad.

Always look on the bright side, and time to get 3 points away at Changchun this weekend, now we can focus solely on the league.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Champions League Matchday 5 : Newcastle

Nagoya Grampus - 8
Ulsan Hyundai - 6
Beijing Guoan - 4
Newcastle Jets - 4

That's how we stand going into today's matches. We could go into all the other stats, the goals +/- and everything, but hopefully we won't have to talk about that. It's fairly simple: the top 2 teams go through and for Guoan, that means win 2 and you advance; don't and you're (probably) out.

For Beijing, they've left 7 starters from the previous league match in Beijing to rest up for the weekend clash against Changchun Yatai. Also, as part of the loan deal, Joel Griffiths isn't allowed to play against Newcastle at home. Therefore, the lineup for tonight's match should be a 4-5-1 (more like 4-2-3-1) that will look like this:
Yang Zhi
Zhou Ting, Paul, Lang Zheng, Yang Pu
Zhu Yifan, Sui Dongliang
Wang Changqing, Guo Hui, Wang Ke
Ryan Griffiths

Why? First, the flight to Australia was 21 hours and after tonight's match, they head straight back to Beijing to prepare for the weekend's match in Changchun. Also, the A-League is currently in their close season, the season ended in January and won't start up again until August (not to mention Newcastle finished in last place in the 2008-09 season). Most of all, while Guoan still has a shot at advancing, if you ask the fans, winning the league is most important, the Asian Champions League is viewed as a minor after thought.

According to coach Lee, this is not meant as a "second team", these are fresh legs, veteran players who are highly skilled. Nice try, Lee, but Zhu's yet to play a match and many are starting their first match. The central defensive pairing has never played together, either, though both being taller center backs, we should be able to control the air. Lee also complained a lot about the condition of the field, which the Aussies admitted was in crappy condition.

So its going to be an interesting test for this Guoan squad tonight. At the same time, these players should be hungry having not gotten a lot of time this year and, this is their chance to make a positive impression on the manager. Yes, I'm not too concerned with the Champions League, but with Tianjin already eliminated and Shanghai having a very tough hill to climb, it would be nice to have the other 2 Chinese teams come up with a respectable showing. 3 points tonight will break our scoreless streak and will point us in the right direction.

Monday, May 4, 2009

CSL Matchday 7 Recap

I started out this week 21-19, an average week this week with a couple of close games saw me go 4-4, for a total of 25-23 on the season. The big Friday night games were exciting and led the way for a really great weekend of football, let's get to it:

Beijing Guoan 0 - 0 Shanghai Shenhua : RIGHT
The full write up's here. Great, hard fought game, bad refereeing, and good goalkeeping meant Guoan walked away with a disappointing draw. Original Prediction: Beijing 1-1 Shanghai.

Tianjin Teda 0 - 1 Shandong Luneng : RIGHT
In the other Friday night action, Tianjin got off to a good start, pumped up by the home holiday crowd, with 2 excellent 1st half chances that they failed to put away, one of them, in the 21st minute, was on an open net. It was a tough game for Hao Junmin and Wu Wei'an and the rest of the Tianjin squad as chance after chance went just wide or was saved by big Li Leilei. After all that frustration, it had to kill them being beaten by a beautiful header from Han Peng with only 5 minutes left in the match. Original Prediction: Tianjin 1-2 Shandong.

Changchun Yatai 3 - 1 Shenzhen : RIGHT
This game got very exciting very early with Shenzhen stunning the home side with a headed goal 7 minutes into the game. It took Changchun almost the entire half, but they responded in the 41st minute when Du Zhenyu set up Cao Tianbao for the goal. The two combined on the other side of half time when Du to Cao equalled the go-ahead goal in the 49th minute. Ai Zhibo added a 3rd, and once again the goal was set up by Du, the home team walked away with an easy 3 points. Original prediction: Changchun 2-0 Shenzhen.

Qingdao Zhongneng 2 - 1 Shaanxi Zhongxin : WRONG
A perfect example of the age old expression, this is why they play the games. Shaanxi came into this game looking strong after beating Beijing the week before and even though they were on the road, they were licking their chops to play this fairly weak Qingdao side. However, Qingdao and veteran Qu Bo had different plans for this one. Qu was a promising youth player who came to prominence as a part of Milutinovic's 2002 World Cup, but since then he hasn't gotten a lot of attention and has remained with Qingdao, despite interest from other clubs. The first goal was a strange one, coming 10 minutes in, when a failed Shaanxi clearance was played back into the box, the defense was all ball watching and thought Qu was offside, the goalie was also asleep and Qu beat him to the ball and tucked it away on an empty net. Shaanxi came back with a great opportunistic header by Marvin Avila to level the game, though Qu put it away with a header in the last 10 minutes to give Qingdao all 3 points. Original Prediction: Qingdao 0-1 Shaanxi.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan 1 - 0 Jiangsu Sainty : WRONG
As was expected, these two teams went at each other in a very even match, with both sides getting good chances. That venue in Guangzhou is a very nice one, unlike a lot of the stadiums, fans seem really close to the pitch and there seems to be a nice slant so even the highest seats are still close to the action, I hope I can check it out at some point. Fortunately it seems like the Guangzhou fans are pretty civilized, if that was in Beijing, the field would be so covered with debris that it would be impossible to play. Anyways, back to the match, while Guangzhou had a few more chances than Jiangsu, both teams deserved a point, however, a questionable penalty kick was given to Guangzhou in the 84th minute. There were two fouls, one just outside the box that was more obvious and one inside the box that was a lot less so. Xu Liang stepped up and coolly knocked the penalty in, his league leading 6th goal (though half have been penalty kicks) to secure 3 points. Original Prediction: Guangzhou 1-1 Jiangsu.

Hangzhou Greentown 1 - 1 Chongqing Lifan : WRONG
On a rainy Saturday in Hangzhou, the home team disappointed the (small) crowd that came out. The highlight of the 1st half was Otto converting a penalty kick in the 24th minute after a Hangzhou player was pulled down in the box. The 2nd half was also fairly uneventful, except for a Chongqing goal scored not by Guinee, but he was important in setting it up, with a sweet pass across the middle and his fellow foreigner burying it to equalize the game and earn Chongqing a point. Original Prediction: Hangzhou 2-1 Chongqing.

Henan Construction 1 - 1 Chengdu Blades : WRONG
In the biggest surprise of the weekend, league leaders Henan only managed a point at home against cellar dwellers Chengdu. Right off the bat Chengdu opened things up with a goal in the 7th minute when Shi Jun shocked the home team off a free kick. Henan immediately went on the attack to equalize with their two headed attack of Netto and Olisadebe both producing good chances though it was Xu Yang who finally netted the equalizer in the 28th minute. From then on Henan dominated the chances, though they were unable to get another one past and were forced to settle for one point. Original Prediction: Henan 2-0 Chengdu.

Dalian Shide 1 - 0 Changsha Jinde : RIGHT
Changsha had to go on the road for only the 2nd time this season. Both teams were able to create some decent chances in the 1st half, with Changsha surprisingly looking like the better side (or at least the one with the more threatening attack). In the 2nd half, Dalian regrouped and looked the better side, finally scoring in the 60th minute when Dong Fangzhuo headed on a nice cross to Ahn Junghwan put it away. Whether or not Ahn was offside is something that can be debated, but the goal stood and Changsha was unable to respond. Original Prediction: Dalian 1-0 Changsha.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Matchday 7 Review : Shanghai Shenhua

In front of the largest crowds Gongti has seen in many years for a CSL match and the largest crowd at any CSL match this season (42,355), Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua engaged in a classic battle. The crowd was unusually energetic, hyped up by the presence of 75 or so Shanghai Shenhua supporters in the south end. Many fans came waving their 9-1 signs and a banner held up asking "What's a Shanghai Man?" received lots of cheers.

Due to injuries and suspensions, Guoan had to make a number of changes, including the first action all season for Guoan hero, Yang Pu, who played at left back. Sui Dongliang was also used for the first time this season in the midfield. Lee played Du Wenhui alone up top with Tao Wei and Martinez in attacking positions in the midfield, along with Sui and Yan Xiangchuang on the wings.

I am not one who complains about the referee very often, when they are bad, they're typically bad for both teams and while Guoan hasn't always gotten calls this season, the referees have also missed a few (though the Disciplinary Committee usually nails Guoan for it ala Griffiths). However, Chen Honghui,the referee for this match, was horrible. I've talked about how Shanghai has played like a bunch of thugs all year, leading the CSL with 24 yellow cards in 7 matches and this game was no different. Unfortunately, more often than not, the referee missed the first foul, but only got the Guoan player reacting.

Anyways, to the match, and Guoan started out controlling the ball, with a number of solid chances, Yan Xiangchuang made a nice, mazy run into the box and crossed the ball, it looked very much like a handball, but the referee failed to call it. Shortly after, Shanghai went on the attack off a Xu Yunlong defensive error, however the Shanghai shot failed to challenge Yang Zhi. Du Wenhui was given a sudden breakaway opportunity, though he was pushed down, the referee failing to call it. Shortly after, Shanghai committed what looked like another obvious handball in the box that went uncalled.

At the end of the first half, while the game was extremely exciting, the game was scoreless. Both keepers came up with a few good saves on some decent chances, though Guoan controlled the match and had the majority of chances. Shenhua was focused on counter attacking and did a good job of it.

Early in the 2nd half, Yan Xiangchuang got nailed by a Shenhua player, while it should have been an obvious yellow, it went uncalled, though minutes later, Yan started an attack with a "hand of God" play for which he was yellow carded. The referee must have realized the ludicrous nature of that yellow because 10 minutes or so later Yan hammered a Shenhua player, definitely a yellow card, but the ref only granted a foul.

In matches like this, especially between such major rivals, the referee needs to have an even hand and control the match. When he doesn't make all the calls, especially when he just "lets them play" it leads to extremely rough play and potential for injuries. On top of the fouls on Yan (and his lashing out), Martinez was nailed with a blatent elbow that went uncalled, while late in the 2nd Ryan Griffiths nailed a Shenhua player (to loud applause) and rightfully got a yellow.

The ref did catch a blatant foul on Martinez, which was followed up by a beautiful free kick by Tao Wei and an equally pretty save by Shanghai keeper Qiu Shenjiong. Qiu had an excellent game and made a huge save on Griffiths late in the match as well. There was a moment of exctasy for Shanghai fans late in the 2nd when they put the ball into the net, though the play had already been whistled dead for a foul.

So both teams earn a point in this hotly contested China Derby, though Guoan probably deserved the win, they weren't able to challenge Qiu as much as they would have liked. This also means that Guoan has gone 270 minutes (and 3 matches) without scoring a goal, a massive problem. Lee's job is safe for the time being, as the massive crowd's anger was more focused at the referee and the visiting fans.

I've complained a lot about nil-nil CSL matches, but this one was a fairly exciting one, definitely one to remember and there will be some scores to settle when these two teams meet again at Hongkou in September.

Friday, May 1, 2009

CSL Matchday 7 Preview

A 3 day weekend means 3 days of football, so lots of action for the fans

5.1 19:30 Beijing Guoan - Shanghai Shenhua
This will be one of the hardest games for me to predict all year. I so want to go with my heart here, but both sides have been all over the place this season. Fuck it, I'm still going with my heart. Umm, no... Prediction: Beijing 1 - 1 Shanghai.

5.1 19:30 Tianjin Teda - Shandong Luneng
In the other big May Day face off, the other two Chinese sides in the Champions League face off against each other in Tianjin. Shandong has been going strong as of late and top to bottom they still look like one of the league's best teams. On the other hand, Tianjin's defense is almost non-existant, despite their solid attack. This is going to be an important match early on to decide on positioning as Tianjin's in 2nd and Shandong is in 3rd right now. Prediction: Tianjin 1 - 2 Shandong.

5.2 14:00 Changchun Yatai - Shenzhen
Changchun's done well at home this season and I've already sworn off picking Shenzhen in almost all situations. I have little confidence in what Shenzhen will do on the road and expect Changchun to continue their success this week. Prediction: Changchun 2 - 0 Shenzhen.

5.2 15:30 Qingdao Zhongneng - Shaanxi Zhongxin
Shaanxi's coming off a big win against Beijing as they face off against a Qingdao side that is trying to get themselves clear of the relegation zone. Qingdao's been on the road a lot this year and so having a home matchup will be beneficial but they don't have enough firepower to win this one. Prediction: Qingdao 0 - 1 Shaanxi.

5.2 15:30 Guangzhou Baiyunshan - Jiangsu Sainty
This will be a very interesting game as Jiangsu heads down south to face off against Guangzhou, it's definitely Saturday's best matchup. Guangzhou is a very decent team, while Jiangsu has been the plucky outsiders all year long, they could easily be much higher in the standings than they currently are. This could very well be your nil-nil CSL snorefest as Jiangsu's defense is strong enough to shut down the Guangzhou attack and probably won't get many counterattack opportunities. Prediction: Guangzhou 1 - 1 Jiangsu.

5.2 19:30 Hangzhou Greentown - Chongqing Lifan
This is one that looks like it could be fairly easy to predict, Hangzhou should have a fairly easy waltz on their way to 3 points at home, but its never easy to predict against Chongqing. Chongqing's Guinee is a grown ass man who is single handedly an offensive weapon, a real goal threat, but the goals don't come from many other spots. Hangzhou has their own scoring threats, this one could get interesting. Prediction: Hangzhou 2 - 1 Chongqing.

5.2 19:35 Henan Construction - Chengdu Blades
Henan is sitting at the top of the table right now and it doesn't look like much will change after this weekend. Their attack is one of the better ones in the league and they are facing off against the team at the very bottom of the table, a Chengdu team that has managed a meager 2 goals in 6 matches. This one should be pretty one sided. Prediction: Henan 2 - 0 Chengdu.

5.3 15:30 Dalian Shide - Changsha Jinde
Why is Changsha always playing in the lone Sunday match? I'm sick of seeing them on tv as the only match in town on Sunday afternoons, especially because they are so incredibly boring. Can't someone at CSL fix this massive scheduling problem? Changsha's finally traveling again and hopefully this will cause them to actually play some football. Unfortunately, I don't expect that to be the case. They should, however, be the perfect side for Dalian to regroup against after losing to Chongqing last week. Expect a low scoring game, but Ahn to play a part in the goal that makes the difference. Prediction: Dalian 1 - 0 Changsha.

Matchday 7 Preview : Shanghai Shenhua

It's finally here, one of the biggest games of the year for a Guoan fan, made all the more important because of our recent form. Shanghai is also struggling as of late so they are sure to be hungry too making this holiday clash all the more exciting. If you only plan on going to one game this season, this is the one you need to attend.

First team news, and something we didn't discuss last week. Joel Griffiths and Zhou Ting were suspended got 5 and 6 games, respectively, by the CSL Disciplinary committe. Griffiths was suspended for the elbow that went unpenalized in the Shandong match. How you can get 5 games for something that went completely unpunished by the referee is beyond me. Zhou was given 6 games for his "cao ni ma" confrontation with the referee (for which he was red carded). Rumor is he swore at the ref in Dalian dialect, unfortunately the ref was from Dalian so he understood it. It also could be debated whose behavior was more dangerous and should be punished more harshly, but this is just one of those highly annoying things CSL fans must deal with. On top of those 2 being out, Tao Wei is a gametime decision and, of course, Huang Bowen's still out for a few months.

Shanghai also has some concerns with Mao Jianqing not traveling with the team to Beijinng due to a high fever and Chen Tao, who suffered a bit of knack, being a gametime decision. Shanghai has played just as many matches as Guoan this year, so fitness should not be a big issue. Also, while there has been some intermittent rain in Beijing so far today, for the time being it's beautiful, so weather probably won't play a big part in this one.

This is a massive rivalry, the China derby, with most these players growing up knowing what this game means to their respective teams and cities. One man in particular who might step up is Martinez, a superstar in Shanghai, but yet to show the same form since joining Guoan. Both managers are sure to have their players up for this one as both are on thin ice right now. The preseason expectations of the media and fans have not been met and both have been underperforming.

I don't know why but I'm feeling very nrvous about this one, perhaps it's because of our recent formbor because wjhat this game means. Then again, it's easy to forget Shanghai fans are just as worried and, even worse, they are on the road. That fact hasn't mattered much as of late as Shanghai won every time they visited Fengtai, but with Guoan back at Gongti, where last time these teams met Guoan won 4-0, hopefully the magic of a home tie at Gongti will make the difference.

No matter what, get ready for a great night of football!