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Chinese Super League finally sets kickoff date

By Shi Futian | China Daily | Updated: 2020-07-02 09:32
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Chinese Super League team Jiangsu Suning (in blue) stepped up preparations for a return to competitive action by playing a friendly against second-tier Taizhou Yuanda in Nanjing, May 8, 2020. Photo provided to CHINA DAILY

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

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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