This Sunday sees the final of the Chinese FA Cup take place between Shandong Taishan and Zhejiang FC, and it is bound to be an exciting showdown.
The match, set to be held in Suzhou’s Olympic Sports Centre, is the 28th edition of the competition since football turned professional in China in 1995. Shandong and Zhejiang, this season’s finalists, are both determined to claim silverware after finishing their league seasons second and third respectively.
The outcome of the match could make history for either team, with one seeking continued success while the other is looking to bring home a trophy they have never laid hands on before.
Zhejiang’s Historical Season
The 2022 season will go down as arguably the greatest season in the history of Zhejiang FC, who were officially founded 24 years ago today (14th January 1998), and have yet to claim any major domestic title in China.
The team has bounced between the Chinese Super League and China League One, previously named the Jia-A and Jia-B leagues before rebranding in 2004, for most of their existence. The closest they have come to claiming silverware has come while playing in the second tier, where they finished as runners-up in both 2006 and 2020 as well as third-place finishes in 2005, 2018 and 2021.
For the Chinese FA Cup, they have been losing semi-finalists on two occasions, in 2002 and 2006, where they jointly held third-place finishes in the knockout competition. But 2022 has been a different story altogether for the club. After claiming their best-ever league finish, Zhejiang have finally reached the final of the cup and have a genuine chance of making history that their fans would never have expected a year ago.
Headlined by star imports Donovan Ewolo and Nyasha Mushekwi up front, along with midfielder and team captain Franko Andrijašević, Zhejiang have proven themselves to be able to compete with the very best in the Middle Kingdom. Their opponents, meanwhile, are suffering through some injuries to key players and will not be at full strength when they take to the field tomorrow.
Spanish coach Jordi Vinyals, who guided the team out of the second tier before leading them through this historical campaign, commented on the impressive achievement of his team ahead of their showdown in the Chinese FA Cup final.
“We never imagined this at the start of the season but it’s fully deserved. It’s the first final in the 25-year history of the club. It’s a shame Shandong don’t have all their players available.”
All Good Things Come in Threes
For Shandong Taishan, they stand as almost a stark contrast to their opponents, especially when comparing the history of both. Shandong have been one of the premier teams in Chinese football for many years. Entering their 30th year of existence, the club have won everything there is in domestic football. They have four Chinese Super League titles and are the most successful team in the history of the Chinese FA Cup, claiming the knockout competition a record seven times.
Not only have their historically been superb when it comes to this competition, but they are also looking to secure a record three consecutive cups after successes in 2020 and 2021. The club have had another strong season in the league, narrowly missing out on claiming back-to-back CSL titles with Wuhan Three Towns’ superior goal difference, but now their attention turns to lifting another trophy in Suzhou this Sunday.
The club, however, will be without a number of key players for a variety of reasons. Marouane Fellaini is still injured, having not played for a few weeks, while influential winger Crysan misses out due to suspension after forcefully shoving an opponent to the ground for a poor challenge on a teammate in their previous match.
Shandong still have plenty of quality throughout their team and will be no pushovers against Zhejiang, and manager Hao Wei spoke in his pre-match press conference on both topics.
“Fellaini is still injured and won’t play. Jadson will play 20-30 minutes at most. Zhejiang have made history, they work hard and we’ll respect them. Penalties are important so we’ve been practicing.”
Hard to Separate Them
No matter which teams comes out with the result, it will make history. The match sees two of the strongest teams in the top tier of Chinese football come head-to-head for a third time this year. Both teams split results in league play, with Shandong picking up a 1-0 win at the beginning of June before Zhejiang claimed a 2-0 score just 22 days later.
Both teams are well matched and it could require the full 90 minutes plus extra time and penalties to truly separate either if they both play to their full potential. Sunday’s Chinese FA Cup final is sure to be an exciting matchup between two strong teams and it will bring the 2022 Chinese football campaign to a close.