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Evergrande edge closer to title with Shandong victory

A late goal for Lucas Barrios made it 3-2 on the night for Guangzhou Evergrande against a resilient Shandong Luneng. The deserved if slightly fortunate victory put the Cantonese side back on top of table and in a very strong position heading into their next match against second-placed Jiangsu Sainty.

Guangzhou, maintaining the attacking impetus of recent weeks, lined up in a similar formation to their 3-5-2 against Al-Ittihad earlier in the week, but with Conca or Zheng Zhi regularly joining Cleo and Gao Lin up front to make it effectively 3-4-3. The backline was radically different, in part due to the suspensions of Zhang Linpeng and Tang Dechao after their antics against Qingdao. Kim Young-Gwan, Qin Sheng, and Cho Won-Hee were employed as a makeshift back trio.

Sun Xiang and Li Jianhao replaced Rong Hao and Feng Junyang as a more defensively minded pair of wing-backs, but the duo had plenty of opportunities to display their attacking abilities in the first half hour or so. The Jinan side, in a flat 4-4-2, were content to wait for opportunities to counter, so Guangzhou controlled possession from the start, with plenty of nice build-up play though with little in the way of clear-cut chances early on.

The home side went in front in the 25th minute though, when Conca spotted Cleo’s run in the box, and curled the ball in low for the big man to flick past Geng Xiaofeng. Cleo had cleverly laid the groundwork for this chance a few minutes earlier by sliding his boots into the opposition keeper’s face while challenging for a low ball in the box.

Cleo set up Gao Lin and Zheng Zhi for good chances in the next few minutes, but one was judged offside and the other shot straight at the keeper. Then, against the balance of play, Shandong struck back, Hao Junmin taking the Evergrande back-line apart with a through ball from inside his own half on the right. Qin’s artless tackle from behind wasn’t enough to prevent Ortigoza from laying the ball on for Macena, who picked his spot while Cho looked on helplessly. It was the Brazilian striker’s ninth goal in nine games since joining the Jinan club.

After conceding the goal, Guangzhou endured a period of fierce pressure from the visitors, largely inspired by the impressive Hao Junmin, who set up their best chances and had a couple of decent shots himself. Despite the stopgap defence looking very shaky at times, the southern side held out and reasserted themselves somewhat before the break.

At half-time the novel formation was abandoned, and Cho was replaced by Barrios, who joined Gao and Cleo up front, with Sun and Li pushing back. The match reverted to the pattern seen through most of the first half, with Evergrande applying sustained pressure, and Luneng launching the occasional counter-attack, usually through Hao.

Shandong made an attacking substitution in the 54th minute, Han Peng coming on for full-back Yuan WeiWei. However, they found themselves on the back foot just a minute later, when Huang Bowen crossed in from the right and found the head of Zheng Zhi, who did well to place the ball just inside the left post.

Barrios was slow to get into the game, losing the ball to end a few of the subsequent attacks. The southern side were also the recipients of a few dodgy offside calls, but to be fair the officials shared the bad decisions around quite equally between the two teams over the course of the game; a masterclass in refereeing this was not.

Shandong again scored against the run of play in the 67th minute. Deep in the opposition half, Barrios hit a ball straight into an onrushing defender and in the resulting break, Hao found Ortigoza, who played a one-two with Macena to set up Han Peng to justify his introduction with a goal. He was also helped by a massive deflection off Qin Sheng, which left keeper Li Shuai with no chance.

Cleo and Sun Xiang were soon after replaced by Feng Junyang and Jiang Ning in the hunt for a winner. In the 79th minute, Qin finally received his customary booking for a hack on Ortigoza when he was running free down the left wing.

Two minutes later Evergrande took the lead for the third and final time, as Barrios headed home powerfully from a perfect Gao Lin cross. Shandong didn’t seem to have much left in the tank, and Guangzhou continued to dominate what play there was left; there was, of course, plenty of the usual tedious acting and timewasting (which did though lead to some amusing handbags between Hao and Conca and Barrios at the corner flag) to be sat through before the final whistle went.

While Guangzhou completely dominated possession and played some nice football, they didn’t really create that many good chances, so while they deserved the win, they should be thankful that Shandong didn’t find the net more than once when they were all over them towards the end of the first half. They did well to come back from two levelers though, and thanks to Jiangsu Sainty’s weekend loss to the revitalised Qingdao Jonoon, are now three points clear of their title rivals ahead of their clash after the international break; the pressure is certainly now on the Nanjing team in these closing stages of the season.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 22 Li Shuai, 32 Sun Xiang (21 Jiang Ning 72′), 14 Li Jianhua, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 16 Cho Won-Hee (18 L. Barrios 46′), 10 Zheng Zhi, 42 Huang Bowen, 15 D. Conca, 8 Qin Sheng, 29 Gao Lin, 9 Cleo (7 Feng Junyang 67′)

Shandong Luneng: 12 Geng Xiaofeng, 3 Du Wei, 5 Wang Qiang, 15 Yuan Weiwei (9 Han Peng 54′), 31 Simão Junior, 17 Hao Junmin, 7 Cui Peng, 11 Wang Tong, 36 Wu Xinghan (24 Lü Zheng 69′), 29 Gilberto Macena, 33 J. Ortigoza (21 Liu Binbin 86′)

Irish Guangzhou Evergrande fan, following them since I fortuitously found myself living next to Tianhe Stadium in 2011, reporting on them for Wild East Football since 2012.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Damian Jones

    10/10/2012 at 12:32

    A hard slog but 3 points finally in the bag. This takes a lot of pressure off us and heaps it on Jiangsu. The time wasting antics at the end were something I haven’t really seen the home side indulge in at Tianhe before, who were no doubt desperate for the 3 points. I’ve heard a rumour that if two teams are level on points at the end of the season, it goes to head-to-head rather than goal difference. Can anybody confirm this? That would mean, if we won in Nanjing, we would be the champions.

  2. GZBiffo

    10/10/2012 at 15:54

    Cheers for that Damian, didn’t know that was the case, but yeah, according to Wikipedia (which claims to source this from sina.com’s CSL page), head to head points, goals scored, and goal difference (in that order) are considered before overall goal difference for ranking purposes:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Chinese_Super_League

    So basically, Jiangsu need to beat us to level it on points, and then hope they pick up more points than us in their last 2 games, which are of course against Beijing and R+F. I think the race for third is going to be where the real drama is in the coming weeks. Does beg the question though why every website I looked at while Jiangsu were level on points with Evergrande but with overall goal difference +1, had Jiangsu on top of the table.

    A question myself – do you or anyone else know if Paulao has been injured for the past month or 2, or did he have an enormous falling out with Lippi? I’d assume the former, as you’d think he’d be in the team regardless during the current defensive crisis, but I’ve not heard anything to that effect.

  3. Damian Jones

    10/10/2012 at 17:16

    I think we’ve discovered that we can rely on local talent (or the superb Kim Young-Gwon) rather than fill the foreign quota allocation with Paulao.
    As for Jiangsu, let’s hope, if they do win, they don’t better our 5-1 crushing of them at Tianhe. I’m confident we can do the business in Nanjing though. Two whole weeks to prepare for it !! I hope our players don’t relax too much.

    • GZBiffo

      10/10/2012 at 18:10

      That’s what I had thought (agree Kim has been great and Zhang has also done very well since switching to the centre), but when Lippi’s picking Qin Sheng and Cho Won-Hee as centre-backs ahead of Paulao, I think there must be something more to it, especially as he’s not even been on the bench. He may have the mobility of a battleship, but he’s nearly as strong, and his positioning is great too. I for one would see nothing wrong with Wu Ping Feng or Jiang Ning getting more starts up front when we’re lacking in fit and available central defenders.

      And whatever about Jiangsu managing a win, I just cannot see them coming anywhere close to being on top if it comes down to head-to-head. It’s hard to see them winning both of their last 2 games either, given how much their opponents will be playing for and how Jiangsu have got on this season generally when under pressure. They’ve done very well to still be in it at this stage, looking at how much the respective teams cost, but… better stop now for fear of courting disaster!

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