It was an odd night in Jinan yesterday, from start to finish it was a controversial affair that, if not for it being a cup semifinal, would be very easily forgotten. As with all the earlier clashes this season between theses two sides, it ended in a draw, this time a goalless one, but a winner had to emerge and unfortunately it was Shandong, besting Guoan on penalties 4-3.
This was not the way this season was supposed to go for the capital side, with the league long since decided, fans were placing their hopes on Guoan’s “Kings of the Cup” status. Unfortunately, Shandong showed why they are more deserving of that title (having won 4 cups to Guoan’s 3). With Shandong having struggled last weekend against Qingdao while Guoan crushed a strong Changchun side, it looked like things would favor the Men in Green, but their horrible away form continued.
Minutes into the match, Shandong was forced to make a substitution when midfielder Wang Liang went off injured in the 5th minute and Deng Zhuoxiang coming on the pitch. The match was all over the place early, neither team looked relaxed or settled, but it never got to be that kind of match as birthday boy Zhang Xinxin received a booby gift, a red card as the last man back for a tackle he made about 40 yards from the goal.
Guoan manager Jamie Pacheco was extremely unhappy with the referee’s decision and showed his anger, getting banished from the sideline as well as having an assistant coach be forced to leave the bench area. It was definitely a controversial call, the shoulder block was light, it was far away from the goal and there was a defender alongside Zhang so a straight red was a harsh decision from the Korean referee.
A man down, Guoan immediately rearranged their lineup, taking off Piao Cheng and bringing on defender Lei Tenglong. Their game plan also went to shit and it never really recovered. The side failed to create a lot of chances and were basically just playing to get to penalties, with a few counter attacks thrown in here and there to keep things interesting.
For the majority of the match, Shandong didn’t look very dangerous either, their attack often getting stalled in the midfield. However, in the last 15 minutes, they came forward in wave after wave, going all out to keep the match from penalties and created a number of solid chances, though failed to get the crucial goal.
With the match going to penalties, it was truly anybody’s game. Guoan shot first with Wang Xiaolong scoring, though Luneng’s Obina cancelled his goal out. Xu Liang stepped up to take the next penalty and Guoan fans should have been worried, Xu’s struggled with penalties since coming to the capital and his shot was saved easily by keeper Yang Cheng. Fabiano scored for Shandong to give them a 2-1 lead, Joel Griffiths was Guoan’s third shooter and scored, but Guoan was given a bit of hope when Hao Junmin knocked his penalty high to bring it to 2-2 through three shooters. Unfortunately, Walter Martinez missed while Zhou Haibin scored to give Shandong the 3-2 lead. Zhou Ting stepped up last and buried it, so the game came down to Roda Antar and Yang Zhi, there was a lot of hope that Yang would finally, finally save a penalty, but Antar scored and gave Luneng the 4-3 victory.
It’s a tough loss to take for Guoan as fans had to like their odds, and there have to be some questions about letting Xu Liang take a penalty, but that’s the way these things go. It’s now time to focus on the big derby match against Tianjin over the weekend and forget about a trophy this year.
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