Jiangsu Sainty 1-1 Guangzhou Evergrande
CSL round 28
Ji Xiang 1; Jiang Ning 49
An exciting 1-1 draw featuring plenty of goalmouth action meant that Guangzhou Evergrande left Nanjing in touching distance of becoming the first ever team to retain the Chinese Super League title. Jiangsu Sainty must now win their remaining two fixtures, against Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou R+F, and hope that Guangzhou fail to win either of their remaining two, if they are to claim their first ever top tier trophy.
Feng Xiaoting was recalled to the Guangzhou defense alongside Cho Won-Hee and Kim Young-Gwon, as Lippi initially persisted with the 3-5-2 formation he has been experimenting with of late. Li Jianhua and Rong Hao patrolled the flanks, with Gao Lin and Cleo partnered up front.
A record CSL crowd of 65,769 at the Nanjing Olympic Sports Center witnessed another CSL record being broken when Ji Xiang opened the scoring after only 7 seconds, the fastest goal ever scored in the division. From kick-off, the ball was passed back to Lu Bofei, whose long ball downfield was gleefully chested past the immobile opposition players into space by Ji, and he finished the move with a superb shot with the outside of his left boot that swerved away from Li Shuai and into the net.
Guangzhou were straight on the attack after the restart, but while they had the greater share of possession for the rest of the half, they had little in the way of shots on target, being largely restricted to pot-shots from distance. The Nanjing side, on the other hand, had a couple of great chances to go two goals up in the first half an hour.
In the thirteenth minute, Jevtić slipped past Guangzhou’s very high defensive line into acres of space, but his eventual shot was too close to Li Shuai, who in fairness did very well to stop it. Then in the 28th minute, Ji Xiang collected a short corner at the byline, turned Zheng Zhi, and struck a sweet cross into the box for Jevtić to head just wide of the left post.
Lippi, chewing nervously on a massive cigar in the dugout, rang the changes on 36 minutes, bringing on Jiang Ning in place of Li Jianhua, and reverting to Evergrande’s standard 4-3-3. Just before half-time, a cracking Conca free-kick was just about kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and woodwork. The resulting corner led to another display of top-class reactions from Deng Xiaofei as he tipped over a point-blank header from Cleo.
Conca again hit the right post from another free kick two minutes after the start of the second half, before Jiang Ning justified his introduction a minute later by putting Guangzhou level. He recieved a pass from Conca outside the box on the left and his powerful shot hit the very top-right corner of the goal, giving Deng no chance. It wasn’t quite as hugely impressive a goal on repeat viewing, when it became clear that its perfection was down to a fortunate deflection off defender Zhou Yun’s knee.
A stung Sainty initially rallied well, with danger man Jevtić (more impressive up front here than CSL top scorer Dănălache) just failing to make contact in the box with a decent cross from Ren Hang. Then, in the 52nd minute, Sun Ke had a glorious chance to put Jiangsu back in front when a pass from Jevtić took advantage of scatty Guangzhou defensing to put him totally free on goal in the left of the box. He somehow contrived to hit the post. Shortly afterward, Paulão made an unexpected reappearance after a lengthy absence from the match-day squad, coming on for Cho Won-Hee to shore up the Cantonese defense.
Thereafter, the match mostly consisted of Jiangsu holding back waves of pressure, with the southerners posing more of a threat than they had in the first half. While the Nanjing club launched a few counter-attacks, none were particularly incisive, and in truth they largely had Deng Xiaofei to thank for the point they claimed as he carried off a series of excellent saves to deny the Evergrande front line a winner.
Jiangsu now have it all to do against the ACL hopefuls in their final two games, knowing that even their all is unlikely to be enough. Guangzhou play relegation candidates (marginally) Liaoning Whowin at Tianhe Stadium on Saturday, and would claim the title with victory, which would be especially pleasing to the Evergrande faithful after the performance of that club and their fans in Shenyang in June. Anything less, and a Sainty victory in Beijing would make the final match-day a real nail-biter for all concerned.
JIANGSU SAINTY – 1 Deng Xiaofei, 39 K. Tadjiev, 23 Ren Hang, 3 Eleílson, 5 Zhou Yun, 24 Ji Xiang, 9 Lu Bofei (8 Liu Jianye 69′), 6 Jiang Jiajun (12 Ai Zhibo 88′), 10 C. Dănălache, 38 A. Jevtić, 20 Sun Ke
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE – 22 Li Shuai, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 4 Rong Hao (7 Feng Junyang 71′), 14 Li Jianhua (21 Jiang Ning 36′), 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 16 Cho Won-Hee (3 Paulão 55′), 10 Zheng Zhi, 15 D. Conca, 8 Qin Sheng, 29 Gao Lin, 9 Cleo