A*U2R97. A series of letters, numbers and symbols that appears to be gibberish and should not mean anything really.
But, for Shanghai SIPG, it spells sabotage.
This comes after Shanghai coach Andre Villas-Boas accused Guangzhou Evergrande of foul play prior to their AFC Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
Leading 4-0 from the first leg, Villas-Boas’ charges survived a remarkable comeback from their opponents at the Tianhe Stadium to claim a thrilling penalty shootout victory following a 5-5 aggregate draw between the two sides.
Despite boasting a side filled with talent like Hulk, Oscar and Wu Lei, Shanghai looked distinctly lacklustre throughout the contest and were lucky to escape with a last-four berth in their possession.
Nonetheless, it now appears that this could have been engineered (get it?) by Evergrande, if Villas-Boas’ claims are to be believed.
Shanghai’s preparations for the tie were apparently severely hampered by a series of accidents on their journey to the Tianhe Stadium.
This raised suspicion within the camp given it was the exact same cars that was involved on each occasion, as illustrated below by technical director Mads Davidsen.
A bizarre night in many ways – including a total of 5 'accidents' which delayed our team bus arriving at the stadium… pic.twitter.com/gPas1R6tsd
— Mads Davidsen (@MadsRDavidsen) September 12, 2017
In the immediate aftermath of the match, Villas-Boas said: “We came in the bus for this game. The same two cars suffered three accidents in front of us so this is a problem.
“They [Guangzhou] can block hotels, cause people to have accidents in front of us… it’s a disgrace”.
There were two cars that were regularly seen in the vicinity but it is A*U2R97 in particular that keeps popping up near the Shanghai team bus, as shown below.
Of course, there is every possibility that – in such congested traffic – it would be completely plausible that the car in question just happened to travelling at the same pace, which explains why it was always close by.
Still, netizens noticed that A*U2R97 was regularly catching up with the bus from behind, no easy feat for a vehicle that had borne the brunt of multiple accidents.
Evergrande coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was quick to point out that Shanghai were no saints themselves.
In the first leg in Shanghai three weeks earlier, the veteran Brazilian tactician revealed that the air conditioning in the away dressing room was malfunctioning; “like a sauna” were his exact words.
Regardless, nothing can change the fact that it is Shanghai who keep alive their hopes of winning the Champions League, while Evergrande will have to make do by pipping their rivals to the Chinese Super League title, which they are on track to achieve as they hold a eight-point lead with just six games remaining.
This does, however, add further spice to an already-heated rivalry between two of Chinese football’s superpowers and one can only wait to see what happens when they meet again in the FA Cup semi-finals on September 30.
It is Evergrande who will be hosts once again so drivers on those Guangzhou motorways would do well to stay alert and keep below the speed limit.
Gamesmanship or pure coincidence? You be the judge.