The Chinese Super League’s continual off-field problems are numerous and well documented but the much-maligned competition has produced some nail-biting end-of-season finales in recent years. Last year, rank outsiders Changchun Yatai’s bubble remained intact, as it led the standings for the whole year to pip Beijing Guoan to the 2007 title on the last day of the season. The 2003 season saw perennial under-achievers Shenhua claim only their second title on the last day of the season, by virtue of city rivals Inter Shanghai also losing their final game. But this year, with just one month of the 2008 season to go, the stage is set for another exciting climax, as just six points separate the top four teamsâ€“Shanghai Shenhua, Shandong Luneng, Shaanxi Zhongxin and Tianjin Teda.
Certainly, anything is possible in the last six games to decide the destiny of the championship. To illustrate this, the past two weeks saw form side Shenhua overhaul Shandong’s six-point lead to currently sit one point ahead of the 2006 champions. They achieved this by beating Shandong at home 3-2, and Guangzhou by the same score line on Sunday night, despite being two goals down after 35 minutes.
Shenhua’s third victory was a more hollow one, a 3-0 win against Wuhan awarded by default following the Hubei side’s decision to withdraw from the league in protest against an eight-game suspension handed out to blockbuster signing from Shenhua, defender Li Wei Feng. All of Wuhan’s previous results this season have been nullified and a 3-0 victory awarded to all opponents. Fortunately, of the games Wuhan played before their expulsion, they had lost all against the top three so the standings were unaffected.
The form table says it all. Shandong have taken just nine points from their last six games, whereas Shenhua have won five and drawn one of their last six fixtures. Early season pace setters, and very much underdogs Shaanxi Zhongxin, have ten points out of a possible 18 from their last six, but they remain very much in contention. Shenhua currently sit top on 51 points, Shandong just one point behind, and Shaanxi on 48 points. Tianjin Teda, on 44 points, are in with an outside chance if they can replicate Shenhua’s recent spurt to the top, but it seems unlikely. In a rather unfortunate metaphor, considering the CSL’s scandal-hit history, your correspondent’s money is split between Shenhua and Shandong for the title.
This weekend sees Shaanxi host Shenhua–which is surely a must-win game for the Xi’an-based side. Don’t forget Shaanxi used to be called Inter Shanghai before changing name and relocating west in 2006 so that will add spice to the occasion. There is also the small matter of Xi’an being one of China’s footballing hot beds in terms of large and vociferous supports â€“ check out this clip of them burning a Beijing Guoan team jersey after a game. They have done far worse in the past. Shandong host 12-placed Changsha in a game which they are expected to win. There will be many twists and turns on the pitch before the end of the season, and let’s hope no more off-field mishaps distract from what should be an exciting climax to the season.
Tags: Chinese Football, CSL, CSL 2008, Shaanxi Guoli, Shaanxi Zhongxin, Shandong Luneng, shanghai shenhua