The following is a report of last weekend’s top-of-the-table CSL clash from the Guangzhou end – click here for the Beijing view.
Finally, a CSL team has come to Tianhe and put up a fight. What Beijing lacked in pace and technical skill, they more than made up for with determination, structure and physicality, taking on Evergrande to the final whistle.
In a pulsating clash, that had more of an ACL quality about it, Guoan started off where they ended against Evergrande at Gongti last season. Flying into tackles, some admittedly dangerous, Beijing were able to let Evergrande know they would be in for a battle. As the match continued, Evergrande also started to get involved with the physical aspects of the game, which perhaps threw them off their own game plan and played into Beijing’s hands.
Guoan took a surprise lead on 12 minutes as Xu Liang twisted on the left side of the Evergrande area and shot past the sprawling form of Yang Jun. After stunning the home support into momentary silence, Xu was then well received by the home support on his journey back to his own half.
Guangzhou responded to the early setback and were level within 3 minutes when Conca sent Cleo clear on the right and his subsequent cross picked out Jiang Ning at the back post, who struck a sweetly timed half-volley into the Beijing net.
The game continued to be one of high quality and Guangzhou were almost caught out when Beijing played a long ball over the top to Wang Xiaolong who was competing one-on-one with Zhang Linpeng. The latter seemed to out-muscle Wang yet the match official found an infringement and Zhang was yellow carded.
On 34 minutes, the match was to turn in Guangzhou’s favour as a breathtaking length of the field counter-attack, which saw some great link-up play by Muriqui and Jiang Ning end with the former finding the net. However, in the following 10 minutes, Jiang Ning was strangely substituted and Guoan were able to find a leveler on the stroke of half time as the impressive Xu Liang was again able to find space for himself before firing home from slightly outside the penalty area, the ball nestling just inside the right post.
The 2nd half became a lot more niggly and both Wang Xiaolong and Qin Sheng were both lucky to escape red cards as the game proceeded. Wang’s was seemingly less obvious, but TV replays show his studs raking down the shins of Conca on 47 minutes, who was justifiably angry as he hobbled away. Qin Sheng on the other hand became involved in an altercation with Piao Cheng and as the two squared up, Qin clearly pushed Piao away with his head. In the ensuing ruckus, the match official had his work cut out to calm the tensions.
As the 2nd half wore on, Evergrande were starting to take a grip of the game, yet Guoan never looked dominated or out of the contest. Conca had a penalty appeal turned down on 63 minutes following an accurate but clumsy looking challenge on the left of the penalty area. However, minutes later Guangzhou were ahead with a simple headed finish from Cleo. A long throw by Qin Sheng caught the Beijing defense ball watching as Cleo rose unopposed.
Guangzhou were now in the ascendancy and were denied a penalty on 69 minutes when Muriqui raced clear into the Beijing penalty area only for Yu Yang to slide in and take none of the ball and all of Muriqui’s right leg. The home support was now rubbing their hands in anticipation of a rout but it was never to materialize.
Beijing kept their shape and although they were increasingly worried by the fresh legs of Wu Pingfeng, Gao Lin and the impressive, robust runs of Zhang Linpeng, they were still able to carry a threat to the Guangzhou goal at the other side of the field without really creating any clear cut chances.
The final whistle sounded and the home support let out a roar of relief as Guangzhou prevailed in the highest quality CSL game of the season.
On a completely biased note, I was disappointed with the way Beijing’s players reacted following challenges against them, by surrounding the match official and asking for cards. Meanwhile, the Beijing bench was extremely animated on the touch-line, throwing tantrums every time proceedings didn’t go their way.
Into the 2nd half, Beijing’s players were going down far too easily in challenges and spending a long time rolling on the floor in order to eat up time and give their team some respite.
However, overall, this was a superb contest between two quality teams and an excellent advert for the CSL.