On a magical night in Beijing, the result was never in doubt, as Beijing Guoan cruised to a 3-1 victory over Tianjin Teda in this big derby match on the back of Xu Liang’s best performance so far, including a goal and an assist.
There was much talk all week long that Tianjin was coming just at the right time and indeed it was, Guoan earning a much needed three points and getting back on track. The match also highlighted the trend of Guoan getting up for big home matches, hopefully we’ll be able to see something similar from them when they go on the road next week.
This was a very special night of sports in the capital, on the western side of town, Beijing Jinyu (Ducks), the local basketball team, was facing off against Guangdong in the CBA finals in game 5, a victory away from their first ever league title. Then on the east side, starting at the same time, Beijing Guoan was facing off against Tianjin Teda in the Jing-Jin derby, a tense rivalry with years of history.
Despite the score, the first half was a tight affair, with Tianjin producing just as many chances as Guoan, in fact they seemed to dominate the chances during the first 45 minutes. Chen Tao put in an impressive performance and created a number of chances while youngster Zhou Liang scared the home fans more than once, though couldn’t finish. Guoan was able to produce its own chances, though the two best ones, from Reinaldo and then from Xu Liang off a free kick, both hit the posts.
Beijing is starting its own trend of weak first half performances followed by a rough halftime team talk (or something), that leads to a much better second half performance. Especially in ACL matches this year, Guoan have looked a completely different team in the second half. The same was true Friday night, with the Men in Green coming out after halftime and dominating the match.
It only took five minutes for Guoan to get on the board, Xu Liang delivered a great free kick from the left side was headed toward the goal by Xu Yunlong, the keeper couldn’t grasp it and Reinaldo blasted it in from point blank range. His celebration showed how important the goal was to him, especially after his recent struggles, it was probably the first time I’ve seen him without the scowl that appears permanently affixed to his face.
Moments later, in the 54th minute, Guoan doubled their tally when given a free kick just outside the box. This was the area where free kick specialist Xu is most dangerous, where he can go straight for the goal, and tonight he was on. He didn’t hit the post like in the first half, instead bending one over the wall and into the back of the net. Xu’s had some bad performances and some have called for him to sit or allow Shao Jiayi, another talented free kick taker, to take on Xu’s duties, but Friday he showed why he’s nicknamed Xukeham (after a certain English midfielder).
Tianjin got one back in the 66th minute off a corner kick played short, Wang Xinxin wasn’t picked up by the defense and took a shot from just inside the box. It looked like it may have deflected off Reinaldo, though whatever the case may be, it took a fortuitous bounce and caught keeper Hou Sen flatfooted. The goal came against the run of play and though they were only down by one with over 20 minutes to play, the result was never in question.
Completing the night of redemption, Zhang Xizhe scored his first goal of the season to top off the night. A lucky bounce after Tianjin’s bad clearance, the ball fell to Darko Matic, who delivered a fine pass that set Zhou Ting free down the right side, he sent a low cross into the middle, Reinaldo back heeled it on, and found Zhang whose hard shot was perfectly placed. Zhang’s gotten a lot of hate from Guoan fans due to his average performances and the fact Pacheco has kept giving him playing time. There was even a collective groan when he was brought on, but he performed well on Friday.
When the final whistle blew on another classic home derby victory, fans celebrated briefly and then ran outside to find someone with a tv, radio, or any way to watch the basketball game. When Beijing won that too, the celebrations were ratcheted up, the beer flowed freely, and it felt like the entire city was awash with joy.