CSL semifinals set: Evergrande vs. Guo’an, SIPG vs. Jiangsu Suning

Society & Culture

Also: The People’s Liberation Army has officially confirmed the withdrawal of all of its sports teams.

Hulk scores a 55th-minute goal for SIPG

The Chinese Super League (CSL), the highest level of professional soccer in China, has seen its most unique season ever come down to four teams in the “championship stage.” These four will square off in semifinals matches beginning this week.

Beijing Guo’an will take on defending champs Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday evening, while Shanghai SIPG faces off against Jiangsu Suning on Thursday. These will be the first legs of a home-and-away, even though all the games are being played in Suzhou.

Evergrande are the favorites, coming off a 5-0 stuffing of Hebei (8-1 aggregate) in the quarterfinals during which the team played only five Chinese-born players.

Evergrande’s heavy use of naturalized players has come under fire from other managers and especially fans, who see Evergrande’s use of naturalized players as unfair, with some questioning the club’s relationship with the Chinese Football Association (CFA).

Guo’an, meanwhile, scraped out a win against Shandong Luneng. The two teams played to a 202 draw in the first game before Beijing won 2-1 in the second. Guo’an looks shaky in the back, having conceded first in both games.

In the other match, Shanghai SIPG goes up against Jiangsu Suning.

SIPG, which won its group, had a nail-biting penalty shootout win (5-4) against crosstown rivals Shenhua in the quarterfinals.

Jiangsu Suning has been comfortably coasting under the radar. A 2-1 aggregate win against Chongqing Lifan was expected for the Nanjing team. However, Suning manager Cosmin Olăroiu will be worried about his team’s ability in front of goal. Against a Chongqing side down to 10 men, Jiangsu dominated the ball with two-thirds possession but could only put three shots on target.


PLA dismantles sports divisions

The People’s Liberation Army has officially confirmed the withdrawal of all of its sports teams.

Last week, there was confusion as the Chinese Basketball Association’s Bayi Rockets failed to show up for its first scheduled game of the season against the Beijing Ducks.

This week, the rumors have all been confirmed: The PLA has pulled both its men’s and women’s teams from China’s domestic leagues.

The Bayi Rockets were the most successful team in Chinese basketball history, dominating the amateur era as well as the early days of the CBA and WCBA.

According to the Global Times, the PLA  was “downsizing and rearranging its sports teams, and withdrawing them from professional national leagues in order to enhance their capabilities to serve the military.”

In recent seasons, Bayi has been perennial losers. A source within the CBA blamed the exit on the recent history of results, claiming that the army team had become an embarrassment to their former selves.

The PLA also shut its volleyball divisions this month.

Future PLA sports plans will now focus on “military-orientated sports,” such as those seen at the World Military Games hosted last year. “Crowd-pleasing sports” have been removed from the army’s “agenda,” although Bayi Rockets fans will probably agree that “crowd-pleasing” basketball was taken off the agenda a long time ago.


Was Ozil exiled from Arsenal because of Xinjiang comments?

Mesut Ozil’s time at Premier League club Arsenal seems to be at an end. The creative attacking midfielder has made 258 appearances for the club, with 44 goals scored. Since signing in 2013, the long-serving star has been an essential part of the squad, both in the Champions League and the Premier League.

But despite earning a cool £350,000 ($456,000) a week at the London club, he will not be eligible to play for Arsenal in competitive matches.

The club’s decision to not register Ozil for this season, despite him still being an Arsenal employee, has led to speculation that the midfielder’s exile was a commercial one rather than a sporting one.

Last year, the German posted on Twitter a message of support and solidarity to Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Arsenal found themselves pulled from Chinese television broadcasts for the following game. In a post on Weibo, Arsenal told its Chinese audience that the club was apolitical and did not agree with Ozil’s comments.

Ultimately, Arsenal survived in China. The club found itself back on TV just one game later. With neither side looking for a fight, the whole Ozil affair seemed to blow over. Ozil returned to the matchday squad.

The tweet coincided with the arrival of Ozil’s former teammate Mikel Arteta as head coach. Since Arteta’s arrival, Ozil has played less and less for the North London club.

While Ozil has never fit into the high-pressing style that Arteta employs, it still came as a shock to the soccer world that Ozil was cut from the first XI, especially considering his enormous salary.

Now with both parties at odds, accusations have been flying back and forth. Ozil’s agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut, told ESPN that Arsenal failed to support his player after his Xinjiang comments, instead leaving him to fight off rabid Chinese trolls on his own.

Sogut took aim at Arsenal’s apolitical stance. Arsenal has supported Black Lives Matter, #EndSars, and Child Food Poverty movements in the subsequent months.

“You have to understand the bigger picture,” Sogut told ESPN. “The [Uyghur situation] created problems for the whole Premier League, not just Arsenal. He expected to get more support from the club. It is not talking about politics, it is about human rights, putting people in detention centers. Imagine a football player comes out and says, ‘This is inhumane.’ Is that politics or empathy?”

Arteta has since responded to Sogut. The Spaniard told The Mirror that Ozil’s attitude was not the level he expected. “If you have to lead, they have to trust you. In order for them to trust you, you have to be honest. You have to be clear and you have to be able to tell people, face to face, the good and bad news. Then you have to be consistent in what you say, the demands you put in and what you apply. When things happen, you applaud them and then when they don’t, there are consequences. Then you create a culture and within that culture, people have to be accountable. People have to step up and they have to demand the standards we need of each other from this football club in order to be successful.”

Ozil will only be able to leave Arsenal in the next transfer window in January. Until then, the German star is unlikely to play any first-team football until he secures a move from the club.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.