By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese football is inching towards 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 Feb. 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 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 qualifying matches, 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 the Pudong district, 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 Asian 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."
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford)