A unique Chinese soccer season approaches its finale with an eight-team playoff

Society & Culture

Is Guangzhou Evergrande too strong? Also in this week's China Sports Column: WWE signs deal with iQiyi as PPTV continues to struggle, and Zhou Guanyu wins his first F2 race.

Beijing Guo'an

After 14 rounds of a COVID-modified season, Chinese Super League (CSL) clubs are preparing for a unique postseason — American-style playoffs — to determine a champion.

Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande topped their respective groups and enter the knockout rounds as the clear favorites to advance to the final.

Evergrande, which played all its games in Dalian, finished with an 11-2-1 record, clearing the second-place group finisher by 8 points. But it has come under fire from other managers who perceive its high number of naturalized players as an unfair advantage, since all other teams have to abide by a rule that limits the number of foreigners.

Shanghai Shenhua head coach Choi Kang-hee lambasted a perceived bias from the Chinese Football Association and the CSL.

“I don’t have much to say; I thank my players for fighting to the end. I wonder what the point of their fighting because this is Evergrande?” the Korean coach told reporters via a translator following a 4-1 loss to Evergrande at the start of the month.

During that game, Evergrande started with only five native-born Chinese players, with the rest of the team made up of naturalized and foreign imports. CSL teams are restricted to just three foreign players on the field at any one time, but Evergrande has skirted these rules by naturalizing foreign players, such as Brazilian-born Elkeson, who now leads the line for the Chinese national team as Ài Kèsēn 艾克森.

“I have nothing in particular to say,” Choi said. “I want to say to my players, ‘Thank you! You are very pathetic.’

“I can’t make out why a match like this one should be held. Isn’t it better to simply give the title to the Guangzhou side?”

CSL standings Group A

Under coach Choi Kang-hee, Shenhua have seen a positive turnaround after last year’s disastrous league campaign and now look like a far more robust side, both mentally and tactically.

Heading into the playoffs, Shenhua — which finished fourth in Group A — will have the chance to knock out cross-city rival SIPG, which won Group B.

CSL standings Group B

But SIPG will feel confident going into the quarterfinals derby. Strong form throughout the season saw the team pull away from Beijing Guo’an. The highly-paid foreign superstars from SIPG finally began hitting their form, and now look like real contenders.

Guo’an will be bitterly disappointed at their drop-off in form in the second half of the season. But the playoff format does give them a chance to redeem themselves. A 4-0 win over Shijiazhuang in the last game of the regular season could signal the start of a strong run.

The league will take Golden Week off, with the playoffs set to start on October 16.


Zhou gets maiden F2 victory

Zhou Guanyu

Zhōu Guānyǔ 周冠宇 put his poor early-season form to bed to claim his first career victory in Formula 2 — the junior series to Formula 1.

The Shanghai-born driver claimed his first-ever win in the sprint race in Sochi, Russia.

Starting from pole, the Chinese driver maintained his lead throughout the opening eight laps of the 30-lap race before a huge accident down the field suspended the race.

After damage to the safety barriers, the race was canceled, handing Zhou one of the most straightforward victories he’s likely to get in his career.

The 21-year-old is now eighth in the F2 driver standings after 10 rounds, with four rounds remaining.


WWE signs deal with iQiyi as PPTV continues to struggle

WWE Xia Li

WWE, the world’s biggest professional wrestling promotion, has signed a deal with iQiyi Sports.

From September 22, WWE will start streaming on the online platform. In the deal, iQiyi will show the flagship programs of Raw and Smackdown as well as the monthly pay-per-view events, such as Wrestlemania and the Royal Rumble.

iQiyi will take over for PPTV, which signed on with WWE back in 2016.

This news comes on the heels of PPTV losing the TV rights for the Premier League.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.