Shao Jiayi inspired Beijing Guoan to a deserved 3-0 victory over Henan Construction last night to keep them in the hunt for Asia Champions League football next year. Jiayi’s double strike sandwiched Zhang Xizhe’s effort to root Henan firmly to the bottom of the CSL.
The phrase ‘must win’ is often used in football but as the CSL strides toward its climax, the race for the title, the Asia Champions League spots and relegation is as close as it could be. Only five points separated basement club Henan Jianye and former champs Shandong Luneng before this game and similarly, Beijing can look over their shoulder at an impressive chasing pack all the way to down to Dalian Aerbin.
Beijing were rocked by Changchun in their last game so confidence would be key, Kanoute still out Beijing looked anything but rocked as they started with pace, flair and good build up play but lacked a finishing touch in the opening 20 minutes. 25 minutes gone and former Energie Cottbus man, Shao Jiayi would need no build up to a cracking 25 yard strike that left Zeng Cheng no chance and sent the fans at the Workers Stadium into a frenzy.
The remainder of the first half was less a game than it was shooting practice for Guoan as Henan gave nothing to even get out of their half and the Imperial Guards peppered their goal with shots but none looking like they would put the game to bed early.
With Stephon Marbury of the Beijing Ducks Basketball team watching in the stands and a marriage proposal at half time, there was a party atmosphere at Gongti with optimism amongst the fans that three points would be guaranteed. Jianye had different ideas though and came out to equalize, had Tan Wangsong’s strike not hit the post and Darko Matić not been such a rock at the back, we could well have had a game on our hands. Against the run of play on 61 minutes, Zhang Xizhe caught Henan napping as Beijing broke well as a clearance released Xizhe to race through and neatly slice the ball past Henan keeper, Cheng.
Beijing’s third was finally a move that paid off, Wang Xiaolong and Zhang Xiaobin combined before a helpful touch from the Henan defence laid the ball into the path of Shao Jiayi again for a first touch shot past the Henan keeper. Later substitutions from Beijing boss Jaime Pachedo, who throughout the entire game was animated, passionate and always instructing his players, slowed the pace a little and when man of the match Shao Jiayi went off to a standing ovation the match lost its punch. Jiayi adds a quality that in his role as attacking midfielder or forward is irreplaceable in Chinese football, the man who can connect the pace of the midfield to the striker and in this game his role was pivotal.
After gritty performances against Shanghai Shenhua and massively important back to back wins against Shandong Luneng and the impressive Guangzhou R&F, the fixture against Henan could easily have been a potential banana skin for Beijing Guoan whose recent resurgence was cruelly halted by a 4-0 battering from Changchun Yatai. However, three wins in four for Old Pa and his troops is something Guoan probably would have taken before playing the fixtures and Henan can look at all their next fixtures as must win.