I love writing about the Chinese Super League, but there are some matches, well, it’s not always an easy job, then I remember it’s just a hobby, then it gets even harder. Saturday’s match is a perfect example of a match that’s damn hard to write about， especially considering its a three day weekend and I can’t pull myself away from looking at the moon and getting fat(ter) eating mooncakes while drinking.
Saturday started out as a special night as it was the six year anniversary of the creation of the yulinjun(“Royal Army” or “Imperial Guards”) the Guoan “ultras”. It was a fairly low key affair as nobody wanted to run afoul of the authorities or have them step in (as they did last year), so it only included a number six in the middle of the section and our version of a ticker tape event (my thumbs still bare the scars of ripping many, many versions of the Beijing Daily).
This was an important match for both teams as we head toward the end of the year and securing Asian Champions League positions. Jamie Pacheco gave a rare start to Francois Sene over Zhang Yonghai at the center of Guoan’s defense as an attempt to deal with Liaoning’s tall attackers, but beyond that, it was more or less his typical starting XI. National team manager Jose Antonio Camacho was in the audience to watch a few players though a pair that he had his eye on (Liaoning’s Yang Xu and Beijing’s Zhang Xizhe) weren’t included in their sides starting lineups.
It rained all day in Beijing on Saturday and while the rain stopped by the time the match kicked off, the field was drenched and often seemed more like ice than grass the way players were sliding all over the place. The conditions definitely effected the play, especially in the first half as the players were adjusting to the conditions. The best chances of the first half probably came within the first five minutes, for Liaoning it was just over a minute in the match when they were awarded a free kick, a bad header by a Guoan player gave Liaoning a free header, but Yang Zhi was up to the task. A minute later, Wang Changqing played a nice low cross through the middle but Joel Griffiths seemed shocked it got through and didn’t get a good touch on the ball.
From the second minute on, there was very little to talk about in the way of chances until the 75th minute, as Xu Liang stepped up to take a free kick from just outside the box, fans hoped he could work his magic once again, it was a beautiful attempt, but the keeper was able to get a hand on it and tip it off the crossbar and out of play. Guoan had one more great opportunity to earn all three points when Griffiths beat Liaoning’s offside trap and pulled the goalie out of the net, his cross looked perfect and Martinez was set to tap it in on an empty net, but he missed it. If in a month and a half, Guoan miss out on a spot in Asia by a point or two, that miss is among one of the more unforgettable (unforgivable?) causes of the side giving up points.
When the final whistle blew, the ACL picture didn’t change at all as Shandong (the 4th place side) lost to Guangzhou, so both Beijing and Liaoning remain in the driver’s seat. Guoan now go on the road for a pair of Chinese Super League matches before a CFA Cup road match before returning to Gongti on the 24th.