Last night’s match between Beijing and Guangzhou was to be the most important match of the season to date, not only for the two teams involved, but for the entire league. With all that hype, it would seem hard for the match to live up to, but it was a thoroughly exciting match in front of close to 55,000 fans, creating an electric atmosphere.
The Guoan ultras started out silent in remembrance of a recent national tragedy, but when they started cheering, after 5 minutes, they were in full voice and the stadium joined in. Conca, the $10 million man, and former Guoan player Yang Hao were in for particular abuse throughout the match. The first half hour of the match was a back and forth, Guangzhou controlled the ball, however Guoan was able to create a few half chances, more than Guangzhou could produce. Neither side was able to settle down in the half and nobody came close to scoring.
At the half, both managers made some interesting changes. Perhaps the pressure of returning home got to Yang, Lee Jangsoo pulled him off after only 45 minutes, while Guoan manager Jamie Pacheco (back on the sidelines after his suspension), took off Piao Cheng for the more attacking Walter Martinez. The match pace picked up and both sides started producing more and more dangerous chances. Just minutes into the half, Guoan created just such a chance off a botched header, Joel Griffiths ended up losing the ball in the box, but Wang Xiaolong came charging on and was tackled hard in the box, what should have been an obvious penalty. I’m not going to harp on this, but it looked a clear penalty and the call could have changed the match (and the season). Keita was brought on shortly after and it appeared Beijing was going for broke, Pacheco knowing a win was necessary, Keita’s height and power gave fits to the Guangzhou defense.
Guangzhou wasn’t without their chances, Gao Lin broke through the defense (this time he was onside, unlike an earlier chance in the first half) and should have done better, though Yang Zhi made a great save in a 1 on 1 situation. Just over 10 minutes later Gao had another chance and this time he put it in. Muriqui went on a mazy run, but Xu Liang was able to kick the ball from him, unfortunately it fell to Gao, who put his shot in the back of the net to put the visitors up by one.
The goal didn’t cause the capital side to give up hope and they continually pushed forward, finally breaking through on a 75th minute corner kick when Martinez elevated and headed it past the keeper. Gongti nearly exploded in noise and fans could sense the match wasn’t over, a winner seemed in the cards for the home team. Within moments a good cross gave Martinez a free header, but he was flagged for offside, a very questionable call.
Guoan didn’t stop the attack, a tackle on Muruqi set up a counterattack when a long ball was played to a breaking Griffiths, he was tackled from behind by Feng Xiaoting, preventing what would have been a great scoring opportunity and earning himself a justified red card. It set up a dangerous free kick, which Guoan wasn’t able to capitalize off of.
In the final moments of the match, it was obvious Guoan was pressing and couldn’t string passes together to create an attack. This was most obvious in the last minute of extra time when Yang Zhi, the keeper, led a counterattack after saving a corner, he went on a nice run and even had a decent move or two, but in the end it was for naught, the game ending 1-1.
The result was to be expected, I had a good feeling going into this one that Guoan wouldn’t lose, but a draw would not be a surprise. A six point deficit with 12 games to play would be hard enough to counteract, but now that the status quo has been maintained and its a 9 point difference, the title is truly Guangzhou’s to lose. With that in mind, the southerners weren’t all that impressive outside of Muriqui, who was far more impressive than Conca, who embarrassed himself with his time wasting (don’t miss the link, dive of the year stuff). A tough one for the men in green who now have a short week before they travel to Dalian for a Saturday night match.