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Goals win games: with a lack of top strikers, how can China solve its goalscoring conundrum?

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Foreign players are scoring the vast majority of the goals in this year’s Chinese Super League, and the effects of that are showing at international level. But it’s the foreign players’ goals that people are tuning in to watch

While the Manchester derby was acting as an advert for everything that’s good about the Premier League this weekend, Jiangsu Suning Sainty and Shijiazhuang Everbright were doing their best to showcase the reasons for watching the Chinese Super League.

The game finished 6-1 to Jiangsu Suning but there could have been a lot more goals, with Shijiazhuang missing two penalties. Aside from the end-to-end football, countless chances and both faces of Chinese goalkeeping, the game also highlighted one of the problems with the Chinese game: that foreigners tend to score all of the goals.

Of the seven on show at the Yutong International Sports Centre on Sunday, there was only one goal scored at the right end by a Chinese player, with an own goal and five strikes by foreigners, including an Alex Teixera hat-trick.

This was not an isolated incident in this weekend’s CSL fixtures. Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao’s 3-0 win over Hebei China Fortune FC included a goal each for Brazilians Ricardo Goulart and Alan, while Guangzhou R&F’s 1-1 draw with Shanghai Shenhua saw a goal from Brazilian Renatinho that was equalised by Colombian Giovanni Moreno.

A similar thing happened in the game between Shandong Luneng and Changchun Yatai, where Argentine Walter Montillo’s opener was cancelled out by Mislav Orsic of Croatia. In Tianjin, TEDA’s two goals came from Colombian Freddy Montero and Gabon striker Malick Evouna, with the solitary response from Henan Jianye courtesy of Sweden’s Osman Sow.

Both of Liaoning Whowin’s goals in their 2-0 victory over Hangzhou Greentown came from foreigners – Zambia’s James Chamanga and Nigeria’s Anthony Ujah – with the same true for Chongqing Lifan, who had Brazilian pair Fernandinho and Alan Kardec to thank for their goals in a 2-1 win over Yanbian Funde.

At Shanghai Stadium, Hulk marked his comeback after two months out with a brace for SIPG in their 2-2 draw with Beijing Guoan, while Turkey’s Burak Yilmaz scored for the visitors.

All in all, there were 26 goals in the eight games of week 24 – only four were scored by Chinese players. But is this necessarily a problem for Chinese football?

This league of nations approach has not done the Premier League any harm as a product – take the Manchester derby, the goals came from a Belgian, a Nigerian and a Swede. In fact, only 9 of the 31 goals scored in the English top flight over the weekend were scored by Englishmen.

But despite foreign players dominating the goals, Harry Kane was top scorer and Jamie Vardy was third last season, while new England international Michail Antonio is joint top this time out with four goals in four games.

In the CSL, Wu Lei is still fighting China’s corner with 13 goals, just one goal behind first place behind Evergrande’s Ricardo Goulart and the injured Demba Ba. Wu was the highest placed Chinese player on the list last season with 14 so will be hopeful of improving on last year with six games left of the season.

All’s well on an individual level but this lopsided distribution of goals has come into focus again because of the national team. In China’s recent World Cup Qualifiers against South Korea and Iran, the lack of quality of their forward play came under scrutiny in a 3-2 loss they could have won in Seoul and a 0-0 draw with Iran.

Is the foreign striker conundrum a symptom of a problem or its cause? Are Chinese strikers not playing because they are not good enough or are they not good enough because they are not playing. There are strong arguments on both sides but from the club’s perspective, they need points and they get those through scoring goals so the temptation is to spend on creative, attacking players to guarantee goals. There are only a handful of Chinese players in the league who are scoring consistently so they choose to fill their foreigner quota with goalscorers.

Those players are doing what they are being paid for based on the evidence. The clubs are getting what they want so for now it’s unlikely to change.

What’s the answer? Limits on foreign strikers, much like the goalkeeper rule, but would that not set the league’s progress back? Perhaps it will be less of an issue with the new rule change from 4+1 to 3+1 limits on non-Chinese players for CSL clubs.

Right now, these foreign stars and the money paid for them is what is making people take notice of the CSL and it is their goals people are watching.

An AFC Champions League victory would be a sign of Chinese football’s quality and Shanghai SIPG have a chance to get one step closer on Tuesday. A winner against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors would put a Chinese team in the semi-finals and it’s unlikely that anyone would care about the nationality of who scored it.

© 2016 South China Morning Post | This article was written by Jonathan White and appeared on South China Morning Post website on 12 September 2016.

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