Shanghai teams to battle for CFA Cup title

Shanghai SIPG and Greenland Shenhua will compete in a two-leg Chinese FA Cup final with the first leg to be held at Hongkou Football Stadium on Sunday.
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Shanghai SIPG striker Wu Lei (center) celebrates after scoring in a derby CSL match against Shanghai Greenland Shenhua at Shanghai Stadium in September. SIPG won 6-1.

While the season is over for most Chinese football clubs, Shanghai fans are holding their breath for a key clash — the Chinese FA Cup final. Shanghai Greenland Shenhua and SIPG will lock horns on the first of the two-leg final at Hongkou Football Stadium on Sunday.

SIPG’s Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas is looking forward to his first championship clash in his debut year in China. The result is likely to decide the future of the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager who had an impressive debut on Chinese mainland.

SIPG finished second in the 2017 Chinese Super League, while it was eliminated from the AFC Champions League semifinals by the Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds. The CFA Cup is its only hope of a title this year.

It wasn't an easy start for Villas-Boas, who, in January, criticized the Chinese Football Association’s restrictions on foreign players just weeks before the start of the season. He clashed again and was banned for 12 matches — the most for any CSL managers — after receiving three warnings over the season.

One of the warnings involved suggesting a corrupt referee — making a “counting the money” gesture — after SIPG’s 26th round CSL match against Beijing Guo’an that led to a straight eight-match ban. The ban could likely continue next season if he stays with SIPG.

SIPG will also have management changes with a new president and a few officials set to come in. But whatever the changes, Villas-Boas would be keen to beef up his resume with a title.

The bans effectively dashed any hopes of Villas-Boas making it for the Best Coach of the Year award. But the club still emerged a bigger winner in CSL’s year-end awards ceremony which was held in Chongqing on November 11.

SIPG striker Wu Lei was the top Chinese scorer in the 2017 CSL season with 20 goals. Yan Junling was voted the Best Goalie of the Year. Under-21 player Hu Jinghang, who was loaned to Henan Jianye, was named the Best Newcomer of the Season. Wu, Yan, captain Wang Shenchao and Brazilian striker Hulk were voted into the 2017 CSL Squad of the Year.

Wu, along with four other SIPG players, returned to Shanghai on November 15 after playing for China in a friendly match against Colombia in Chongqing. It has almost its entire team except for striker Lu Wenjun, who is serving one-match ban for yellow cards.

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Shanghai SIPG’s Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas

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Shanghai Greenland Shenhua head coach Wu Jingui

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua showed its ambition by introducing Argentine striker Carlos Tevez at the beginning of the season. However, reportedly the best-paid player in the world struggled on the pitch, finding the net only thrice in 17 appearances for the club in all competitions.

Shenhua’s Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet resigned in September and was replaced by former Shenhua head coach Wu Jingui. The team eventually finished 11th in the 16-team standing — its worst performance in the last six years.

Shenhua had everything going wrong for it this year. A fire broke at Hongkou Football Stadium that seemed to affect the team as it was forced to play a series of away matches quiet early in the season and failed to pick up points. By the time it returned for home matches, the momentum was lost. 

Unlike SIPG, which allowed Villas-Boas to decide on foreign players, Shenhua officials were involved in buying foreign players. Club president Wu Xiaohui admitted after Poyet’s resignation that the club did not do well in picking the right head coach and players. Wu said bringing Tevez to Shanghai had not panned out well as the Argentinean failed to meet the club’s expectation.

Greenland Shenhua scored 52 goals, but conceded 55 in the season — the third-most after the two relegated teams from Liaoning and Yanbian. Some of the goals were conceded in the last 10 minutes of a match, suggesting a lack of match fitness and stamina.

Greenland Shenhua captain Giovanni Moreno has yet to extend his contract which expires in the middle of next year. The Colombian international has said that he needed games to keep his form and retain his place in the national team.

A CFA Cup title would give Greenland Shenhua an automatic berth in next year’s AFC Champions League. If it fails to win the cup, Moreno and Shenhua would have no matches to play till March next year when the new CSL season starts.

To prepare for the CFA Cup finals, Greenland Shenhua flew to South Korea for a friendly match on Sunday against Jeju United, which Shenhua lost 1-7.

“We don’t consider it an embarrassing result. It was our intention to look for a strong team for the friendly as SIPG is a very strong opponent,” said coach Wu. “We won the last two CSL matches with big scores. However, the result against Jeju United reminded us of who we really are.”

After Sunday’s first-leg CFA Cup final match, the two teams will meet at Shanghai Stadium, SIPG’s home ground, in a week’s time for the second leg.

The last time a Shanghai team won a national level championship was way back in 2003 when Shenhua won the Jia A League but it was taken away following the betting scandals. The last time Shenhua won the CFA Cup was in 1998.

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The Chinese FA Cup trophy

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