Chi­nese Su­per League fi­nally sets kick­off date

CFA con­firms top-flight ac­tion to re­turn July 25 in Dalian, Suzhou

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By SHI FUTIAN shi­fu­tian@chi­

After a near six-month hia­tus, the 2020 Chi­nese Su­per League sea­son will fi­nally kick off on July 25.

This year’s cam­paign was orig­i­nally sched­uled to be­gin on Feb 22 un­til the COVID-19 pan­demic forced its post­pone­ment. On Wed­nes­day, the Chi­nese Football As­so­ci­a­tion con­firmed that, as pre­vi­ously re­ported, the CSL will re­turn in three weeks’ time.

“As the COVID-19 epi­demic is grad­u­ally un­der con­trol across the na­tion, and to meet the ex­pec­ta­tion of peo­ple, the Chi­nese Football As­so­ci­a­tion has de­cided to start the 2020 Chi­nese Su­per League sea­son on July 25 in Suzhou and Dalian,” read a CFA state­ment.

“The CFA will try its best to make com­pre­hen­sive prepa­ra­tions. And we will strictly fol­low the epi­demic preven­tion reg­u­la­tions to en­sure matches are well or­ga­nized and well man­aged. We will guar­an­tee the safety and qual­ity of this CSL sea­son.”

Ear­lier on Wed­nes­day, the CFA an­nounced that it will op­er­ate two more trans­fer win­dows this term, in ad­di­tion to the win­ter win­dow (Jan 1-Feb 28).

A sec­ond win­dow opens on Thurs­day and ends on July 29, with clubs also per­mit­ted to buy and sell play­ers from Sept 1-30. Each club can sign no more than five play­ers across all three win­dows.

The CSL sea­son will be­gin with its 16 teams split into two groups, which will be based sep­a­rately in Dalian, Liaon­ing prov­ince, and Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, group A in Dalian will be com­prised of de­fend­ing cham­pion Guangzhou Ever­grande, Jiangsu Sun­ing, Shan­dong Luneng, He­nan Jianye, Dalian Pro, Guangzhou R&F, Shang­hai Shen­hua and Shen­zhen. The lat­ter club re­places Tian­jin Tian­hai which in May dis­banded due to fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

Group B in Suzhou will fea­ture Bei­jing Guo’an, Shang­hai SIPG, Wuhan Zall, Tian­jin Teda, Chongqing Dang­dai, He­bei China For­tune, Qing­dao Huang­hai and Shi­ji­azhuang Ever Bright.

The CFA, though, has yet to an­nounce the com­pe­ti­tion’s struc­ture. Last month, the gov­ern­ing body was re­ported to be con­sid­er­ing a round-robin for­mat fol­lowed by a knock­out stage to de­cide the cham­pion, AFC Cham­pi­ons League spots and rel­e­ga­tion places.

Ori­en­tal Sports Daily re­ported that all the first-phase matches will be held be­hind closed doors to pre­vent the spread of the coro­n­avirus. Evening kick­offs are ex­pected in or­der to avoid high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the day and to also en­sure bet­ter TV rat­ings. These de­tails are yet to be con­firmed by the CFA.

“The fi­nal match for­mat and de­tailed sched­ule could be an­nounced after a meet­ing of club man­agers next week,” wrote sport reporter Wang Ming­hao on his per­sonal so­cial me­dia ac­count. “There is only less than a month be­fore the

CSL starts. So the clubs will seize their time to make prepa­ra­tions and more for­eign play­ers will re­turn.”

The CFA had orig­i­nally planned for a late-June start to the sea­son, which re­port­edly failed to earn govern­ment ap­proval due to in­ad­e­qua­cies iden­ti­fied in the gov­ern­ing body’s health and safety mea­sures.

How­ever, the re­turn to China in re­cent weeks of a num­ber of for­eign play­ers and coaches — in­clud­ing Dalian Pro head coach Rafa Ben­itez, and Guangzhou Ever­grande star Paulinho — in­di­cated a kick­off an­nounce­ment was near.

Ori­en­tal Sports Daily re­ported that some CSL clubs have asked per­mis­sion from the CFA to ar­rive at the host cities two weeks be­fore the ac­tion starts. Cur­rently, the CFA is only re­quir­ing teams to ar­rive seven to ten days prior to the kick­off.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, all club staff will un­dergo nu­cleic acid tests for the coro­n­avirus seven days prior to their de­par­ture for the host cities and again upon their ar­rival at the hubs. Only those show­ing neg­a­tive re­sults will be per­mit­ted to travel.

How­ever, it seems none of these com­plex­i­ties will dampen the en­thu­si­asm of the play­ers, who by all ac­counts are rar­ing to get back com­pet­ing on the pitch.

“Tal­ent is a gift, it’s a grace. And suc­cess has noth­ing to do with luck, but with de­ter­mi­na­tion and work,” Shang­hai SIPG’s Brazil­ian star Hulk posted on his per­sonal Weibo ac­count, ac­com­pa­nied by a photo of him­self train­ing.

Soc­cer leagues across the globe have re­turned to ac­tion in re­cent weeks with no spec­ta­tors and strict virus preven­tion mea­sures in place.

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