Last night’s match had it all, though despite Beijing Guoan’s efforts, they fell 3-2 to Ulsan Hyundai. The Beijingers are now eliminated from the Asian Champions League, but they certainly went out with a final hurrah.
The first half was like déjà vu for Guoan fans, replicating what happened in Korea in April, giving up two early (easy) first half goals with little offensive response and an early first half substitution that saw Piao Cheng come on for a struggling player. There were some obvious differences, this time around Guoan put out a lineup of reserves, choosing to focus their resources on the Chinese Super League. There were nine changes, including the keeper, from the starting XI that faced off against Shanghai Shenxin on Friday.
The goals came all too easily, both from play down the left wing, finding a wide open player in space. Kim Shinwook, who has pretty much scored at will against Guoan, opened up the scoring in the 17th minute, with teammate Kim Seungyong coming down and scoring one of his own moments later.
It was utterly disappointing, but when you have a back line who have never played together in an actual match, especially on such a large stage, mistakes are to be expected. It could have been far worse, more than once the visitors went in all alone on keeper Bai Xiaolei. However Bai, making his first start for Guoan, came up with a number of big saves.
Just after the restart, Guoan pulled one back when Xu Liang played a ball over the top that found a charging Zhang Xizhe. Zhang slid it past the keeper to cut Ulsan’s lead to one and energized the crowd. The fans in attendance, a far smaller than usual crowd, was even more pumped up after Bai saved a penalty kick in the 65th minute.
Guoan continued to push forward looking for a winner, but it left them stranded at the back, in the 78th minute a long ball set Ulsan attacker Maranhao free. Bai came way out to play the ball but didn’t get to it in time, allowing the Ulsan player to walk around him and tap it in for a two goal cushion.
Reinaldo had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes when a rough tackle had him seeing red, literally. The Brazstralian, angry with the tackle, got up and pushed the Korean defender and was shown red.
Two goals and a man down, the team fought on, Shao Jiayi scored his first goal since returning from Germany in the first minute of extra time, leading to a massive roar around the stadium. There was even a chance to win it in the end, a dangerous free kick from just outside the box, but Xu Liang sent it over the bar and the referee blew for full time.
For a neutral, the match was very entertaining and despite being a reserve lineup, Guoan showed that they still have a lot of fight in them. This match could have easily been as ugly as the Tianjin debacle against Central Coast, but Guoan played hard. Unfortunately, they just didn’t start doing so until the second half.
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