“Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.”
–Gloria, White Men Can’t Jump
A very non-football movie to quote from, but these words passed on to Billy Hoyle apply just as much to the two sides that met at Gongti Saturday night, for when the match ended, Shandong walked away like winners, while the home side seemed to be the losers. Such is the case when you control the play for much of the game and yet give up a last minute goal.
It was one of the largest crowds of the season at Worker’s Stadium Saturday night, nearly 45,000 fans, including a decent contingent of fans from Shandong. Things didn’t start out bad for Guoan, the first half was a tight affair as both sides were feeling each other out. Guoan was slightly better at controlling the ball and creating chances, but none of them amounted to much. Beijing’s efforts to break down the Shandong defense didn’t amount to much and it was quite obvious the creativity of Walter Martinez, still out on international duty, was missing. The two best chances the side could produce were long shots from Zhang Xinxin and Xu Liang, forcing the Shandong keeper into action. At the other end, Guoan’s keeper Yang Zhi, who’d been sick as of late, had a calm half, the best chance coming off a Shandong free kick that he parried away.
Yan Xiangchuang was given a rare chance to start last night, and I was a bit excited “Xiao Chuang” has fallen out of favor with Guoan manager Jamie Pacheco, rumors say its due to a weight gain and lack of work ethic. Sad news considering last year Yan was a regular in the starting lineup and just missed making the national squad for the Asian Cup. I felt Pacheco was being a bit harsh, but the way Yan played last night, it’s in Jamie I trust from now on. Perhaps it should be chalked up to his lack of starts, but Yan wasn’t up for this one and when he was switched out at halftime for Wang Changqing, there was a marked improvement in the Guoan attack.
Wang is an interesting story himself, he started off the season in fine form, but for whatever reason Pacheco quickly came to favor youngster Wang Xiaolong. In the second half last night, with a Wang on the left and right, the dynamic changed and Guoan finally had Shandong on their heels. Just minutes in, Xu Liang made a run to the right touch line and barely got a cross off, but was able to find the head of Joel Griffiths at the top of the 6 yard box. Griffiths header was well placed in the lower right corner and put the Men in Green up 1-0.
Looking to get the insurance goal, Guoan kept the pressure on Shandong’s keeper. Moments after the goal, Zhou Ting ripped a shot that was just slightly high. Guoan seemed to have neutralized longtime capital killer Han Peng, Shandong’s top striker. With less than 15 minutes left, Shandong brought on Obina, who then proceeded to elbow Darko Matic away from the play. While the announcers (and some members of my household) were calling for a red card, the yellow that was given seemed fair enough.
In the dying minutes, Wang Changqing pushed forward and had Guoan on a solid counterattack, but fellow substitute Zhu Yifan was unable to keep track of the Shandong defensive line and wandered offside. An unfortunate circumstance as moments later, a long ball was played down the field, chested by Obina in the box who then attempted a leaping kick, his shot was perfectly placed past Yang Zhi to give the visitors the equalizer in the 89th minute.
Nonetheless, Guoan kept their heads up and some tight passing even set up Wang Xiaolong in space, he had a breaking Wang Changqing to pass to, but he decided to take the long shot, a bad decision as his shot was well off target. Guoan even had a final last gasp in them after Yang Zhi sent Xu Yunlong on a breaking counter attack, unfortunately the ball went out for a throw in and exactly at the moment the 3 minutes of extra time were up, the referee whistled the game over, perhaps a little too hastily.
A point for Guoan, now 3 points off the pace of victorious Guangzhou, but it’s easy to understand why the players had their heads down coming off the pitch. Moments away from a memorable victory, squashed by a magical, individual effort.