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AFC Champions League

ACL Matchday 1: Ulsan Hyundai 2 – 1 Beijing Guoan

My thoughts about last night’s match are certainly complex, as I’ve said time after time before, I’m fine with a loss, especially in an away Asian Champions League match, I just want to see the players losing because the other team was better.  Unfortunately, last night it looked like Guoan was outplayed because they just didn’t show up, they weren’t ready for the match, and they thought they were still playing friendlies.

It was a strange feeling when we arrived at the Ulsan train station.  No fans were milling about, no hints that a match was even taking place that night, a feeling that continued when we arrived at the stadium a little over an hour before the match to find it all but empty.  I knew Korean support was weak, especially when it came to the early stages of the ACL, but I was expecting more than the 1500 fans who made it to the venue last night.

The lack of a crowd contributed to the friendly feel of the match, exasiberated by the rough tactics of Ulsan, kicking Beijing players all over the pitch, something that Guoan quickly started doing themselves, leading to a player lying on the pitch at almost every stoppage of play.

Jaime Pacheco’s lineup featured goaltender Hou Sen making his first team debut.  Your first match is always hard, but on such a big stage, it was slightly unfair (the alternative, Bai Xiaolei, would be making his first Guoan start).  It was also surprising that Pacheco didn’t use Andrija Kaluderovic, instead choosing to start Reinaldo.  Most of all, the decision to start Zhu Yifan over Piao Cheng came as a shock, one that the manager would rectify in the 38th minute, when he brought Piao on.

In 2009, I bitched and bitched and bitched about Kim Shin-Wook, the massive 1.96 heading machine.  At the time, Guoan lacked a tall player and Kim had his way with the Guoan defense.  I thought this year would be different, the club now had Francois Senne, who is almost Kim’s height.  I thought wrong.  Francois had his worst game in a green shirt and seemed to constantly lose where Kim was on the pitch, instead letting Xu Yunlong handle the marking of Kim.  When he did mark Kim, he was hesitant and got beat, which is how Kim scored the match’s opening goal, off a decently placed header that Francois failed to step up on.

The second goal was even worse and crushed whatever hope might have existed after laughably bad defending gave Ko Seul-ki the chance to bury a shot past a decidedly nervous Hou Sen.  Hou’s nerves really got to him, it didn’t help that he was under pressure from the start of the match, especially by Kim’s play.  Guoan wasn’t chance free, but the side didn’t look like it was on the same page or that it had trained at all in the offseason, playing a lethargic game with far too many passes that were off mark.  The chances that did come almost always did so through returning star, Shao Jiayi, who was one of the few Beijing players who played a strong match.

The other was Piao Cheng, who looked like the player he was before getting injured last year, a playmaker who finds a way to get around opponents.  He got Beijing on the board with a beautiful shot that just slipped in under the top post, a great way to score his first goal for the capital club.  Perhaps it was the fact the Korean Chinese Piao, who served as de facto translator for the team all week, was in Korea that helped motivate him.

The goal breathed a bit of life into Guoan and they started pushing forward, but when Pacheco took off Shao, it deflated things a bit.  Shao is getting older and his conditioning has always been a concern, but I was hoping he’d be able to go the full 90, especially since he was playing so well.  His replacement, Mao Jianqing, also making his debut for Beijing, played well but it just felt like a loss was inevitable.

It’s a tough way for Guoan to open up their ACL campaign.  In the post-match press conference, Pacheco stated, “The biggest enemy for us was the lack of confidence in the team, while they also struggled to deal with the burden of expectation.”  Since FC Tokyo was able to go to Brisbane and win 2-0, Guoan really needs points in their next match, a fortnight away, when Brisbane comes to Beijing.

 

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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