Chinese soccer returns amid torrential rain and another COVID-19 outbreak

Society & Culture

Meanwhile, the CBA’s regular season has concluded, with some fans in the stands.

Beijing Guo'an and Chongqing of CSL playing on a rainy waterlogged pitch in Suzhou
Beijing Guo'an vs. Chongqing Lifan in the CSL opener in Suzhou

The Chinese Super League (CSL) got underway over the weekend, with seven games played in the designated host cities of Dalian and Suzhou, and an eighth scheduled for today.

Both locations were hit with separate issues that could have derailed the season kickoff.

Up north in Dalian, there was another outbreak of COVID-19 at yet another seafood market not too far from the team hotels in the soccer bubble. But the CSL put faith in its players and coaches, who have been under self-imposed quarantine. Down in Suzhou, torrential rain caused a waterlogged pitch. Yet in the face of these late hurdles, the show went on.

Defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande beat FA Cup champions Shanghai Shenhua 2-0, with 25-year-old Chinese national team winger Wéi Shìháo 韦世豪 scoring both goals. The champions were far from their fluid best and were lucky not to concede an equalizer in the first half — but the quality of Paulinho and the Evergrande midfield was enough to restrict Shenhua’s possession.

Last year’s runners-up, Beijing Guo’an, looked rusty in Suzhou, though it managed to edge past Chongqing Lifan 2-1. Guo’an played much of the game down one man after defender Yáng Fān 杨帆 was given a red card in the 25th minute for a headbutt.

In the second half, Guo’an raised their game and managed to grab two goals from Lǐ Lěi 李磊 and Piáo Chéng 朴成 in 50th and 66th minutes. A late own goal from Yú Dàbǎo 于大宝 in the 88th minute came as little consolation for Chongqing, which had nothing else to show for its 15 shots.

Beijing was restricted to just two foreign players due to Chongqing’s all-domestic starting 11, but it was the waterlogged pitch in Suzhou that caused the most issues for both teams. You can check out the goals and the soup the game was played on here:

The “home” team, Dalian Pro, managed by ex-Real Madrid and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, scored first against Shandong Luneng and looked strong until midway through the second half, when Marouane Fellaini was unleashed. Fellaini scored three goals in a seven-minute span, giving his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish (though Dalian scored late to bring the final tally to 3-2).

The ex-Everton and Manchester United Belgian international midfielder started up front, but after dropping into his natural position in midfield, the goals came fast and hard — all from headers, starting from the 78th minute:

Wuhan Zall, who had been exiled from their hometown and country when COVID-19 hit, got off to a deserved winning start against Qingdao Huanghai.

Every game had a minute’s silence for the healthcare workers who had sacrificed so much during the pandemic; however, in a moving moment, Zall was presented a guard of honor by the Qingdao team, which is usually reserved for that season’s champions.

In other action, Shenzhen FC beat Guangzhou R&F 3-0, Jiangsu beat Henan 4-3, and Hebei and Shijiazhuang played to a 2-2 draw. Tianjin and Shanghai SIPG are currently playing now.


CBA regular season wraps up with fans in attendance

Jeremy Lin and Yi Jianlian CBA Beijing Ducks vs Guangdong Southern Tigers
Former NBA players Jeremy Lin and Yi Jianlian, now with the Beijing Ducks and Guangdong Southern Tigers

Fans were back in the stands during the final round of the CBA regular season: key medical workers, police, and other public servants.

On the court, it was Guangdong Southern Tigers that continued their record-breaking run, defeating Jeremy Lin’s Beijing Ducks in their final game, 101-82.

Guangdong has now won 29 straight games, the longest winning streak in CBA regular season history.

Despite the loss, the Ducks finished fourth, which means they’ll be in the quarterfinals — setting up a potential rematch with Guangdong in the semis. (Twelve teams make the playoffs, which means there’s an eight-team pre-quarters, with the top four seeds getting byes.)

While Guangdong looks unstoppable, the Ducks do have a bit of history on their side.

Beijing finished fourth in the regular season when they won the title in 2014 and 2015. On their route to the final in 2014, the Ducks defeated none other than Guangdong. Of course, that year they were led by Stephon Marbury, who is now a coach for Beijing’s other team.

That team, the Royal Fighters, finished seventh. Led by Kyle Fogg, the Royal Fighters have struggled at times this year, but as the Beijing team with the smaller budget, Marbury will be happy with where the team ended up. The Royal Fighters, incidentally, are only one of two teams to have beaten Guangdong this season.

The Jilin Northeast Tigers are the other team to have beaten Guangdong – though the team has been playing without its best player, Dominique Jones, since the season restarted. Jones was leading the league in scoring, at 37.8 points per game, when play was suspended in February. He has not returned to China.

Elsewhere, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers secured second place, while the Liaoning Flying Leopards finished third. Full standings here.

The playoffs start on July 31.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.