is pleased to welcome a new contributor to our team, Piers Hunday, who is based in Guangzhou. Piers has been living and working in Guangdong’s provincial capital for several years and has followed Guangzhou for three seasons. He’s seen the side transformed from a mediocre team in the Chinese Super League, to being one relegated to the China League for match-fixing, and after last weekend’s 4-0 win against Tianjin, to a team closing in on their first ever league title. We are delighted to have Piers aboard the good ship to cover the Chinese Super League’s hottest team.
Before I get into details of the match I’d like to talk about the pre-match atmosphere and events outside the Tianhe stadium. About an hour before the game you will see a hive of activity in the surrounding area. There are sellers peddling goods such as foreign football shirts (Real Madrid, Barca, Manchester United etc) of questionable quality and for the first time we saw they were selling some great quality Guangzhou Evergrande knock-offs. To the delight of my friends these shirts also had the numbers on the back of our star players- 29 for Chinese national striker Gao Lin, 10 for combative captain Zheng Zhi, 15 for Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca and 11 for Brazilian fan favourite and fellow playmake, Muriqui. It’s a welcome sight to see these shirts for sale and I hope I see more people wearing them with pride around the city, especially now as the team are on the verge of their maiden championship.
What is not a welcome sight are the touts/scalpers one must deal with and the arduous process of getting a ticket in the first place. Since the very first time I saw this team (then Guangzhou Pharmaceutical) this has been the only way of getting into the ground and it is not a pleasant experience. After several rounds of bartering and protesting ‘tai gui le!‘ you have to concede that these colourful characters have something you want and we had to settle for an inflated price. It’s bewildering that this seems to be the only way to get a ticket and that there isn’t a fixed ticket office outside the stadium or a way of buying them officially online. The demand is high but the Tianhe Sports Centre is rarely full to capacity and with a growing foreign fanbase and an Asian Champions League campaign in the not too distant future things must change if the owners truly want to fulfil their ambition of making Evergrande a household name around Asia and the World.
However once in the ground things were much more pleasant. As always the supporters were a sea of red and a cacophony of sound. I invited several foreign colleagues to join me and now adorned in their new red home shirts they loved the noisy but friendly atmosphere. Guangzhou had recently lost its unbeaten record in a midweek defeat to Changchun but there appeared to be no nerves as they relatively comfortably swept aside the visitors.
Tianjin didn’t play poorly by any means and they tested the Guangzhou number one several times, but as often seems to be the case the individual brilliance of players such as Conca and Muriqui can turn a game on it’s head in an instant. After 13 minutes Conca opened the scoring after a nice passing move and swept the ball in the net from inside the area. At around 21 minutes in Tianjin had their best chance of the game but were denied by some brave goalkeeping by Yang Jun for Guangzhou that resulted in a nasty looking collision between both goalkeeper and forward.
Muriqui effectively put an end to the game as a contest on 31 minutes when he rounded the goalkeeper for his 11th league goal of the season. The second half was an intriguing cat and mouse game with Tianjin pressing but Evergrande looking dangerous on the counter-attack. Gao Lin, who was having a quiet night, got his name on the scoresheet on 75 minutes from a typical counter-attack move and Conca added gloss to the scoreline with his second goal of the night on 83 minutes scoring from close-range.
It’s been a successful season and Guangzhou are now all but mathematically champions. There will be room to improve in pre-season but with talented individuals on the pitch and wealthy owners off the pitch the future looks bright for Guangzhou Evergrande.