Title­hold­ers handed tough open­ing

CFA re­veals fix­tures for new Chi­nese Su­per League sea­son

Global Times - - Sports - By Wang Huayun

Chi­nese Su­per League (CSL) cham­pi­ons Guangzhou Ever­grande were handed a stern open­ing test in their quest for an eighth straight Chi­nese top-flight ti­tle as they host crosstown ri­vals Guangzhou R&F in the first round of the new sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 fix­tures re­vealed by the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (CFA) on Tues­day.

De­spite win­ning a record sev­enth CSL ti­tle last sea­son, Ever­grande didn’t have the up­per hand in the two games against R&F when they were held to a 2-2 draw at home and lost 4-2 in the away tie.

Then af­ter two home games that should not cause trou­ble against Changchun Yatai and He­nan Jianye, Ever­grande will be­gin a tricky pe­riod that might end up defin­ing their whole sea­son. They have to play a se­ries of strong teams in the next five rounds: big spenders Tian­jin Quan­jian who as new boys beat Ever­grande in both meet­ings last sea­son and fin­ished third in the CSL, sixth-placed Shan­dong Luneng who beat the cham­pi­ons 2-1 at home, last sea­son’s un­der­achiev­ers Shang­hai Shen­hua, old foes Bei­jing Guoan who de­feated Ever­grande 2-0 in Bei­jing and fi­nally Jiangsu Sun­ing, who also spent big last sea­son but fin­ished 12th in the 16-team league.

Af­ter a the­o­ret­i­cally easy home tie with Guizhou Zhicheng, Ever­grande travel to Shang­hai to take on last sea­son’s run­ners-up SIPG. Although fail­ing to beat the cham­pi­ons in their two league games, SIPG knocked out Ever­grande in the Asian Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals on penal­ties af­ter an ag­gre­gate score of 5-5 in two rounds.

There will be three games which all kick off at 7:35 pm on the first game day of the sea­son (Fri­day March 2), while an open­ing cer­e­mony will be held one day later at the Tian­jin Olympic Cen­ter Sta­dium be­fore Tian­jin Teda host He­bei China For­tune.

Fans don’t have to wait long for high-pro­file games as the CFA has lined up some real crack­ers in the early rounds. Luneng vs Guoan will be the high­light of the first round while a surely event­ful Shang­hai derby be­tween Shen­hua and SIPG is sched­uled for Round 2. The two teams both boast in­ter­na­tional stars in the likes of Brazil­ians Hulk and Os­car, and for­mer In­ter Milan play­ers Obafemi Martins and Fredy Guarin. The two sides scored 11 goals in their two games last sea­son. In their first matchup, a to­tal of eight play­ers were shown yel­low.

The fight for Cham­pi­ons League spots might go down to the wire as promis­ing con­tenders face each other in the late rounds. Some of the high-pro­file matchups are Ever­grande vs SIPG, Quan­jian vs Guoan, and Sun­ing vs China For­tune in Round 28. In the penul­ti­mate round, R&F will host China For­tune, Shen­hua will travel to Bei­jing to take on Guoan, and Sun­ing visit Luneng.

Cham­pi­ons League berths could still be up for grabs in the fi­nal round as half of the eight games will be be­tween the top teams, with Quan­jian vs SIPG, China For­tune vs Guoan the cream of the ties.

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