A deserved 2-1 home victory for Qingdao Jonoon against Guangzhou Evergrande last night has severely weakened the Cantonese club’s quest for the treble.
Not only has the defeat opened the door for Jiangsu Sainty to take pole position in the CSL for the first time this season, if they can manage a win on Sunday at home to Dalian Aerbin, but the collective meltdown Guangzhou suffered towards the end of a match where they incurred their first 2 red cards in this CSL season calls into question whether they have the mental strength to succeed on all fronts.
From the start, Qingdao were doing most of the attacking, although Gao Lin did have a weak header from a Zhao Xuli cross blocked by Zou Zheng in the eighth minute. However, a very physical Qingdao team dominated early proceedings, with a few strong tackles on Guangzhou’s expensive foreign acquisitions by ex-Evergrande player Melkam setting the tone.
In the eleventh minute, Li Shuai in the Guangzhou goal redeemed himself somewhat after his abject performance 2 days ago by knocking a point-blank header from Zheng Long over the bar. Two minutes later, a wicked curling shot from outside the box by Bruno Meneghel only just failed to find the net, hitting the base of the right post.
Moments later, Qingdao broke from an Evergrande foray upfield, with the impressive Meneghel sending Zheng in space up the left with an acrobatic overhead kick from the centre of the pitch. Zhang Linpeng did well to knock the ball out for a corner before Zheng could get a shot away.
There wasn’t much in the way of chances, or football really, in the rest of the half as the exertions of playing so many games in a short space of time clearly caught up with Guangzhou, and the tie became increasingly bad-tempered. Zhou Xuri was booked in the 18th minute for a nasty challenge on Ibragimov, and Conca received a card in the 39th minute for a high boot on Guo Liang. Barrios provided some comedy, rolling around clutching his face after an imaginary elbow, which the ref ignored, and he generally putting most of his energy into berating the referee for not giving him and his teammates more protection from the tough play of Qingdao.
The anonymous Jiang Ning was replaced at half time by Tang Dechao, in his first match since being injured against Hangzhou Greentown in early August. He went into central defence alongside Kim, with Zhang Linpeng moving out to the right side.
Four minutes after the restart, Meneghel got his reward for his good all-round play, heading in from close range after a nice cross from Ibragimov on the right took out the Evergrande defense, and the cameras showed him running into the stands to celebrate with his wife and young daughter. Li Shuai and the covering Li Jianhua probably should have done better.
The goal finally sparked Guangzhou into life, and they responded almost immediately, Gao Lin sending a lovely looping header into the top right corner from a cross from the left by Sun Xiang. This was followed very quickly by Conca setting up Li Jianhua in acres of space on the right, but he dragged his shot just wide of the left post.
However, the resurgence would be short-lived, as Tang Dechao found himself getting sent off a mere 15 minutes after coming on. He received his first yellow card in the 55th minute for dragging down Bruno just outside the box, and his second five minutes later, for a display of sublime idiocy.
Meneghel was advancing towards the box down the left, so Tang legitimately tackled him to send the ball out of play. Zheng Long got another ball from the ball boy and took a quick throw-in to Meneghel, so Tang, loitering on the sideline, decided to tap the original ball back into play and then draw the Vietnamese referee’s attention to the fact of there being 2 balls on the pitch. The ref had no option but to show him a second yellow and send him off. Nevertheless, most of Guangzhou’s Chinese players surrounded the official and harangued him in a rather disgraceful fashion, with Gao Lin, who had minutes earlier been booked himself for either encroachment or bitching, being the most vocal.
Soon after, Zheng Zhi came on for Qin Sheng, and the presumably irked referee failed to book Li Peng for a blatant professional foul on a breaking Barrios. Barrios was then replaced by Cleo, who was more of a physical threat up front, but didn’t contribute much of note besides being involved in Qingdao’s only booking, Ibragimov seeing yellow for a rather crude sliding challenge on the big Brazilian.
A great dipping volley from Zhao Xuri that hit the crossbar was the best chance until Zheng Long put Qingdao in front with an absolute screamer from just outside the right edge of the box that went right into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Guangzhou immediately upped their efforts, their best chance being a header just off-target by Zhao Xuri from a Conca free-kick, but the combination of their own exhaustion and Qingdao’s time-wasting tactics – the usual stuff, players collpasing to the ground for no apparent reason – made it all futile.
There was still time for one last bit of drama though, when with time almost up, Zhang Linpeng had a rush of blood to the head, and swung a vicious kick at substitute Zhu Jianrong’s achilles, with the ball long gone. It was a well-deserved straight red card, and Zhang subsequently got himself into a confrontation with members of the Qingdao bench who had rushed on to berate him, and had to be calmed and led off by coach Li Tie.
After the final whistle, Guangzhou players rushed to surround the ref and his team once more, Gao Lin mockingly applauding him, but the decisions throughout the game were generally no different than you would usually expect playing away, and the sending-offs were unquestionably correct reactions to moronic offenses.
For Qingdao, this was a great result which lifted them off the foot of the table. With games against the rest of the top three still to come in their final five, avoiding relegation will be a tough call, but all those games are at home and if they can produce more displays of this spirit, they definitely have a chance.
Guangzhou’s sub-par performance can be put down largely to exhaustion, having played with largely the same group of players in Shenyang only 48 hours earlier, and at home many miles away only 72 hours before that. However, the events of this game may come back to haunt them, as it seems far from certain that they’ll be capable of keeping their heads if provoked in the upcoming big matches. In addition, losing 2 centre-backs to suspension (with Zhang, their best defender, probably suspended for most of the rest of the season) will also make the run-in that bit more difficult than it needed to be. In any case, it was far from the ideal preparation for Tuesday night’s Champions League showdown.
Qingdao Jonoon: 28 Mou Pengfei, 24 G. Melkam, 2 Guo Liang, 3 Leo San, 32 Li Peng, 6 A. Ibragimov, 10 Zheng Long (23 Song Long 90′), 17 Liu Jian, 7 Yao Jiangshan (19 Song Wenjie 71′), 25 Zou Zheng (15 Zhu Jianrong 82′), 9 Bruno Meneghel
Guangzhou Evergrande: 22 Li Shuai, 32 Sun Xiang, 14 Li Jianhua, 28 Young-Gwon Kim, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 37 Zhao Xuri, 15 D. Conca, 8 Qin Sheng (10 Zheng Zhi 63′), 18 L. Barrios (9 Cleo 69′), 29 Gao Lin, 21 Jiang Ning (13 Tang Dechao 46′)