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March 26, 2020

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CSL hopes soar as teams train

Chinese football is inching toward a return to action, with teams resuming training this week, though questions remain over when exactly the country’s top flight can kick off its coronavirus-delayed 2020 campaign.

Chinese Super League clubs started to return to training on Monday, two months after the league’s originally scheduled start date of February 22 but still some time before the new season is likely to begin.

While mid-April was previously touted as a possible date for the CSL’s return, the positive test returned at the weekend by former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini, of Shandong Luneng, may well have pushed that back.

Football has been put on hold throughout the region due to the pandemic, with Japan delaying the restart of its top flight to May 9.

But no matter the date, players and coaching staff are back on the training pitch in China after spending much of the year hunkered down overseas.

“We trained at a modest level, mainly focusing on strength and conditioning,” Shanghai SIPG defender Yu Hai told Shanghai TV after his club’s opening session on Monday.

“It’s the first day that we are back to training, and the intensity will be gradually increased for sure.

“We are professional players, we should be able to overcome whatever obstacles lie in front of us. I believe with effort from everyone at the club we can stick together and overcome this difficult period together.”

All 16 CSL clubs are now back in China while the national team, which was training in the United Arab Emirates in preparation for now postponed World Cup qualifiers, decamped to the southern island of Hainan over the weekend.

At SIPG’s training session, television pictures showed players keeping their distance from one another at the club’s training facility in Pudong, both on the pitch as they performed stretching drills and in the gym.

Head coach Vitor Pereira and his assistants did not join the session as they remain in isolation following their return to China, a familiar story for the foreign coaches and players who have returned to the country.

Many remain outside China, however, and as a result the likelihood of a mid-April start has receded.

“Although we didn’t have a spring training camp this year, we are really in need of some serious physical training to get ready for the season,” SIPG club captain Wang Shenchao said. “I believe after a few high-intensity training sessions we will be ready for the CSL, the AFC Champions League and the FA Cup.

“Once the season starts the intensity of the match schedule will be very challenging. However, it’s the same for all the clubs. Only those with good mental strength and well-prepared physical condition can manage it.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins is on the verge of a return to Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, media reported, increasing the likelihood Odion Ighalo will make his stay at Manchester United a permanent one this summer.

Ighalo has made an impressive start to life at United, scoring four times in eight games since signing on loan until May 31 from the CSL club.

Martins, who was previously contracted to Shenhua from 2016 until the end of the 2018 season, was reported by Titan Sports to have arrived in China on Tuesday and was being lined up to replace Ighalo.


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