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Mahjong table ready when Chinese football re-enters virus ‘bubbles’

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Chinese Super League teams are returning to two safe “bubbles” designed to keep out the coronavirus, with the second half of the disrupted season starting on Friday.

In the first part of the campaign, players were locked up for 10 weeks in a hotel in Suzhou and one in Dalian, where they were only allowed to train and play matches.

The strict measures, which included not mingling with the outside world or seeing their families, were a success with no reported infections among players, coaches or support staff.

The second half of the season is shorter, ending on November 12 and will take place again in Suzhou and Dalian.

The 16 teams will play two-legged knockout matches instead of the usual home-and-away formula in the renewed league.

Former champion Shanghai SIPG, home of Brazilian stars Oscar and Hulk, will clash with rivals Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday in the most eye-catching game of the restart.

Clubs again try their best to entertain players while isolated.

Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande, the reigning champions, were depicted shipping at least one mahjong table to Suzhou, where the championship will be decided.

The teams provided table tennis, karaoke and gaming machines last time, while a player was depicted with a large box of Lego.

The CSL started on July 25, five months later than planned and behind closed doors due to the pandemic.

However, now that local infections are under control, the Chinese football authorities have since allowed a very limited number of spectators into stadiums.

Evergrande took the lead in the Dalian group with ease after the first phase and SIPG led in Suzhou, underscoring the title of both clubs.

In Dalian, where teams will fight to avoid relegation in the second stage, former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez faces a battle to keep his Dalian Pro squad in the CSL after just two wins in 14 games this season.

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