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Chinese Super League

Goals galore, Banksy, and packed stands – Fuligans and Guangzhou derby fine advert for Chinese Super League on opening day

Foreign fans in fine voice as season kicks off with nine-goal thriller featuring two hat-tricks and a goal of the season contender

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 2:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 5:03pm

The focus in the lead-up to the season was all about transfer tax, eyewatering wages and star signings. On Friday night that was all put to the wayside as the Chinese Super League opening weekend kicked off with three matches, the biggest of which saw champions Guanghzou Evergrande host city rivals R&F.

As adverts for the best of Chinese soccer go, it couldn’t have been much better. The game was broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK and those who tuned in were treated to a nine-goal thriller, a surprise win and two hat-tricks.

Eran Zahavi started where he left off last season. The 2017 top scorer and league MVP opened the scoring after just four minutes with an early goal of the season contender.

He followed it up with another strike from outside the box following a Napoli-esque breakaway from the visitors.

The 11 men in red shirts, their new manager Fabio Cannavaro and the vast majority of the 47,839 crowd did not know what had hit them. Those in the away end could not believe what they were seeing.

Evergrande only lost six times last season, although one of those was the derby as R&F took four points from the two games. But this was R&F’s first game, while Evergrande had already played three times this season, unbeaten in the Champions League and gearing up for the league opener with a 4-1 win over Shanghai Shenhua in the Super Cup. They were expected to win.

Among the blues penned in by a sea of red on either side were the foreigners of the GZ Fuligans – Fuli being the club’s Chinese name. The supporters group led the singing from the stands, serenading their star striker and professing their love for a club that, despite nearly qualifying for the Champions League last season, is one of the worst supported in the league. That makes the Fuligans, who started life at the end of the 2012 season, disproportionately large.

The first foreigner-only supporter group in the division might not be the only such group now, they are certainly the only group that has a Banksy design on their flags and T-shirts, and it’s approved by the mystery man himself.

Aside from world renowned street artists, the group explain that they also receive the support of the club. That’s not something that is the case in clubs further north and more evidence of the football culture down south, something that was clear with the variety of shirts sported by the crowds around the stadium before the game and the number of Evergrande fans on trains after the match.

With the turnover in expats in the city, the Fuligans group changes while numbers wax and wane during the season but under the full moon of the opening night they were in full force, with newcomers joining the old faces.

It was a cross-section of expat life – a mix of jobs, nationalities and time spent in the city among the men, women and children that met up at their stronghold, Rebel Rebel bar, ahead of the match.

Outnumbered but never outsung, the Fuligans and the much larger local supporters group saw the champions shake off their slow start with a hat-trick from Brazilian forward Alan putting the hosts ahead at the half.

Zahavi matched Alan’s feat with his hat-trick and after he laid the ball off for midfielder Urso to put R&F ahead, a balmy evening was turning into a barmy evening.

“We love you Fuli, we do” and other chants repurposed from the songbooks of British terraces hung in the night air joining shirts being swung above heads. The euphoria didn’t last long, Evergrande hitting back with a penalty from Ricardo Goulart. But R&F heads on the pitch and in the stands did not drop and beanpole striker Xiao Zhi nodded in a Tang Miao cross. For 20 minutes – and six minutes added time, the Blues held on to leave Evergrande red-faced and the Fuli fans hoarse.

The friendliest derby was the ideal start for the CSL and the game will have won fans overseas. The contrast couldn’t be much clearer as matchday two’s biggest game shows a very different side of Chinese football. There will be no love lost when Shanghai Shenhua take on table topping SIPG at Hongkou Stadium on Saturday night.

Can anyone stop Guangzhou Evergrande? Ten questions ahead of the new Chinese Super League season

Stray matchday one observations

• Is Cannavaro in trouble already? The Italian needs four points from Evergrande’s double-header with K-League side Jeju United or advancing in the Champions League will be impossible. If he fails to get points on the board then his second stint could be shorter than the six months he lasted in 2015.

• Last season there were seven hat-tricks over the course of the season. There were four this opening weekend alone, with Wu Lei and Oscar netting trebles in Shanghai SIPG’s 8-0 hammering of Dalian Yifang.

• The league’s big new arrivals were all overshadowed on the opening weekend. Dalian’s reintroduction to the CSL was brutal for Carrasco, Gaitan and Fonte, the latter giving away a penalty. Beijing Guoan’s Cedric Bakambu was on the wrong end of a 3-0 at Shandong Luneng. Both Guoan and Yifang are on the road again this week.

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• Neither Jiansgu Suning manager Fabio Capello nor his Brazilian forward Alex Teixiera have been at Inter Milan but the pair looked at home in the Nanjing side’s new black and blue stripes as they won 3-1 in Guizhou. The Brazilian has been linked with a move away but if he keeps up his form he could make the squad for the World Cup.

Matchday one results

Guangzhou Evergrande 4-5 Guangzhou R&F; Henan Jianye 0-4 Tianjin Quanjian; Shanghai Shenhua 1-1 Changchun Yatai; Chongqing Lifan 1-0 Beijing Renhe; Shanghai SIPG 8-0 Dalian Yifang; Tianjin Teda 1-1 Hebei CFFC; Guizhou Zhicheng 1-3 Jiangsu Suning; Shandong Luneng 3-0 Beijing Guoan