The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature.
Guangzhou Evergrande defeated Shanghai SIPG 2-0 last Saturday and Hebei China Fortune 3-1 away on Wednesday to put themselves in pole position for a record eighth Chinese Super League (CSL) title (only one other team has more than one title). With only a final home game against Shanghai Shenhua, Evergrande will be looking for just a draw to see them over the line.
Trailing them in second place is Beijing Guo’an, who head into the final day at home against Shandong Luneng knowing they need to win to have any hope of securing their first title in a decade. Beijing trails by two points in the table, but trails in goal differential by eight goals.
Last weekend’s action was perhaps the most gripping of the year. While Beijing defeated Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 away in the “China Derby,” it was the top-of-the-table clash between Evergrande and defending champions SIPG (“Shanghai East Asia”) that caught everyone’s attention.
The game certainly had the feel of a cup final, as both teams looked fairly edgy in and out of possession in the packed Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou. Out of the scrappiness and hard tackles, including handbags in the 19th minute following a robust challenge, one man rose above the rest: Brazilian forward Talisca (pictured up top), who secured Guangzhou the all-important win over SIPG with two goals at the end of each half.
SIPG edged Evergrande in possession but failed to make any of their chances count as their star Brazilians failed to get into the game. Oscar, the star Brazilian midfielder for SIPG, was outshone by the Evergrande duo of Paulinho and Talisca, who ran the midfield through sharp counterattacks.
Looking forward to Sunday’s action, the favorites have to be Guangzhou, as it faces against 13th-ranked Shenhua at home. The leaky Shenhua defense (54 conceded this season) provides Guangzhou with a slightly easier challenge than Beijing’s clash against fourth-place Shandong.
FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament announced, and China is probably screwed
China men’s national team has been handed a tough draw in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament (June 23-28). China will travel to Canada to face the hosts as well as Greece in Group A. If it finishes in the top two, it has to win two more games — against some combination of Uruguay, Czech Republic, and Turkey — to qualify.
Greece is ranked 7th in the world, the Czech Republic 10, Turkey 15, Canada 21, and Uruguay 43. China is ranked 27th.
China finds itself in this precarious position following its abject performances at the FIBA World Cup earlier this year. Now the chances of seeing the side in the Olympic games next year in Tokyo look as remote as ever — our previous sports columnist, Mark Dreyer, called it “highly unlikely” two months ago — with Canada and Greece boasting a number of top NBA stars (Greece has last season’s NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo).
Meanwhile, the seeding was kinder to the women’s team. Hosting their section of the women’s tournament in Foshan, China will have to get past Great Britain, Spain, and South Korea to reach the Olympic Games. Unlike the men, the women’s tournament is a simple round robin, with each side playing each other once.
Bahrain soccer player in racism storm against Hong Kong
FIFA has started disciplinary proceedings against a Bahraini national team player who aimed a “slant-eye” gesture toward Hong Kong fans in a World Cup Qualifier.
Sayed Baqer used the offensive gesture as he made his way down the tunnel at the end of the game following a goalless draw. As reported in the South China Morning Post, the player had become frustrated with Hong Kong’s time-wasting antics in the closing period of the game as well as the jeers of the Hong Kong fans.
Elsewhere, in unrelated news, Ezequiel Lavezzi announced (alongside teammate Javier Mascherano) that he would be leaving Hebei China Fortune at the end of the season. The Argentine international scored 34 goals in three and a half seasons in the CSL. He made headlines around the world and earned the ire of some Chinese fans when he also used the slant-eye gesture in 2017 while playing in Hebei.
Highlight of the Week:
The two Beijing teams in the Chinese Basketball Association — one of them coached by Stephon Marbury, the other one with Jeremy Lin — played each other on Tuesday, though Lin was scratched from the lineup after suffering muscle cramps in pregame warmups.
Marbury’s Beijing Royal Fighters entered the fourth quarter with a 19-point lead over the Ducks, and held a seven-point edge with 24.5 seconds remaining. You’ll have to watch these highlights in order to believe what happened next:
The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.