Kyrgyzstan goalie forgets what sport he’s playing, dunks ball into own goal

The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature in which China Sports Insider Mark Dreyer looks at the week that was in the China sports world.

So far, so good, for China at the AFC Asian Cup, but things could have turned out very differently in their opening match of the tournament on January 7.

A great strike from outside the box had opponents Kyrgyzstan leading at halftime, with China looking devoid of ideas. But a classic blunder saw China gifted an equalizer five minutes after the break, as the Kyrgyz goalie simply palmed the ball into his own net following a corner despite only being under limited pressure.

A 78th-minute winner from striker Yu Dabao, who’s been used as a defender in the Chinese Super League recently due to the prevalence of foreign stars filling the coveted forward spots, was enough to give China maximum points and send them to the top of Group C ahead of today’s game against the Philippines (kickoff at 9:30 pm China time).

Coach Marcello Lippi was rightly scathing about his team’s attitude afterwards, with this classic generalization: “There were a few times when the team couldn’t play well in the first half, and then, after I got angry and I pushed my players, I got the reaction I wanted from the first minute. Maybe it’s the characteristics of the players from China.”

Fans weren’t too happy, either, but with four out of six third-placed teams progressing to the knockout stages, this win has gone a long way toward China going through, with a possible — and very winnable — match-up against one of India, the UAE, or Thailand now looming.

LA Lakers vs Nets

This year’s NBA China Games have been announced, with LeBron James’s Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai and Shenzhen on October 10 and 12, respectively. The games look interesting for a number of reasons.

First, LeBron, a three-time NBA champion, is unquestionably the most recognizable player in the NBA today, and will soon pass both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on the list of career points. Meanwhile, the Nets are now co-owned by Alibaba exec Joe Tsai, who has been instrumental in bringing American college basketball teams to China through the Pac-12 China Games.

That’s something Lebron’s teammate Lonzo Ball knows only too well, as his younger brother LiAngelo was detained in Hangzhou a little over a year ago after a shoplifting incident while touring with UCLA. It will be very interesting to see if Lonzo makes the trip, and whether his brother — or loudmouth dad Lamar — also comes along for the ride.

In terms of the itinerary, Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena is clearly regarded as the country’s leading basketball venue, with this year’s fixture marking the seventh straight year that NBA teams will have played there. But Shenzhen — a venue for the third year in a row — appears to have displaced Beijing as China’s second-best option, with the capital last hosting NBA teams back in 2016.

The Wukesong Center, previously sponsored by MasterCard and LeSports, and now branded as the Cadillac Arena, was once seen as the premier venue when it opened for the 2008 Olympics, but its inconvenient location, changing of names, and uncertain operations have now seen it slip down the pecking order.

Zhou Qi

We brought you news a couple of weeks ago that Chinese center Zhou Qi had been cut by the Houston Rockets, with the big man now weighing his options.

He’s made it clear that the NBA remains his preference, and says his agent is in discussions with a number of teams, but he also made it equally clear he had little interest in returning to play in China: “I haven’t seriously considered returning to the CBA. But if that eventually becomes the only possible choice, I will join a title contender, so I can play my best.”

What becomes all too apparent is that, with no NBA team willing to sign him — at least for now — but all CBA teams desperate to do so, the gulf in class between the two leagues remains a chasm.

There is one Chinese basketball player making headlines for the right reasons, though, and he’s a pretty interesting guy.

Ugandan-Chinese power forward Zhu Mingzhen has gained some fame on the TV show Dunk of China in recent weeks, and now has his sights set on the CBA. This profile is worth a read.

Manchester United in China

Finally this week, EPL club Manchester United has been in the news with the announcement it plans to open three fan experience centers in China by 2020, continuing a trend led by several other European teams in recent months.

But it’s United’s disingenuous press releases that I would like to highlight — again — here.

First, some history.

Back in 2012, the club commission a survey ahead of an expected cash-raising IPO, with the results naturally intended to convince potential investors of the club’s merits.

This survey estimated the club had more than 600 million followers, of which more than 107 million were claimed to be in China. But the problem is, a club doesn’t have followers, it has fans.

So what, exactly, is a follower?

By the survey’s own definition, a follower is anyone who takes an interest in Manchester United’s results, such as supporters of all other EPL teams — even including those from their hated rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

No one uses the word “follower” in soccer, and so the vast majority of people reading this nonsense naturally assumes that a “follower” is the same as a “fan.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the headlines of “Man Utd’s 100 million fans” are incorrect by a huge magnitude, but the club has been rolling this stat out in seemingly every commercial press release for the past six years.

And the press laps it up.

For general brand awareness, few clubs can rival Manchester United, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost all the major outlets reporting this — BBC, FT, CNBC, Bloomberg, and many others — blindly repeat the club’s spin without pausing to think.

The only one to cover it accurately?

China Daily.

China Daily reporting on Manchester United

The China Sports Column runs every Friday on SupChina. Follow Mark Dreyer @DreyerChina.