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CFA Cup final: Evergrande recover to share first leg spoils with Guizhou

Guizhou Renhe 1-1 Guangzhou Evergrande

CFA Cup Final 1st leg

Rafa 10; Barrios 49

Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande side took a step closer to securing a domestic double on Saturday with a 1-1 away draw at Guizhou Renhe in the first-leg of the Chinese FA Cup final 2012, despite finishing the match with just 10-men.

Powerful Spanish striker Rafa Jorda had given the hosts an early lead against a disjointed Evergrande side, taking full advantage of some comical goalkeeping by Evergrande’s Li Shuai to open the scoring in the first-half.

The league champions responded strongly, though, with Lippi making immediate changes and it was half-time substitute Lucas Barrios who equalised within minutes of entering the pitch to level the scores. The game would finish in disappointing fashion, though, for the visitors as striker Gao Lin saw red for two yellow cards in the space of seconds after a prolonged show of dissent.

The game started terribly for Evergrande, with Guizhou employing Yu Hai and Zlatan Muslimovic wide to exploit the space behind the visitors’ wing-backs in their chosen 3-5-2 formation. The change in set-up ahead of the game was a surprise and it proved to be misjudged on the part of the Italian manager.

Yu Hai, in particular, terrorised Rong Hao on the Guizhou left and supplied a string of tantalising crosses into the area, with Rafa close to opening the scoring on at least one occasion. Soon after, a free-kick from the right saw fellow Spaniard Nano rise to head towards goal  with Li Shuai only able to palm onto the crossbar. The home side were dominant.

Whilst having five-men in midfield should have given Evergrande the opportunity to control the middle of the park, the opposite occurred. Rong Hao and Sun Xiang often found themselves isolated on the flanks, whilst the chosen defensive trio spent the opening 20 minutes playing long-balls forward to the helpless Cléo.

Guizhou would soon take full advantage. Evergrande failed to deal with Yang Hao’s corner from the right and presented the midfielder with a second crossing opportunity, swung to the back-post. In a moment of madness, goalkeeper Li Shuai scrambled off his line to claim the ball and, unchallenged, got nowhere near, giving Rafa an open goal in which to guide his header after just ten minutes.

Lippi soon acknowledged his mistake. Sun Xiang dropped back into defence and the powerful Zhang Linpeng switched to right full-back in a 4-2-3-1. The effect was almost instantaneous, with much-vaunted midfielders Zheng Zhi and Dario Conca beginning to control proceedings in midfield, although Yu Hai would waste a good opportunity to double Renhe’s lead.

At the other end, Evergrande were finally beginning to threaten with Gao Lin only denied a chance to equalise by the offside flag, while Zhao Xuri blasted a shot well wide of Zhang Lie’s goal from the edge of the area. The best chance of the first-half, though would fall to Conca who placed a side-footed effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box, having been handed space and time to shoot by Brazilian forward Cléo.

It was to be the former Partizan forward’s only significant action of the match, though, as it was Paraguayan Lucas Barrios who emerged from the changing-rooms after the break. Lippi’s early substitution would soon reap its rewards. Just four minutes later, Barrios rose highest to meet Feng Xiaoting’s cross, heading down to Zheng Zhi who neatly found the forward in space once more and Barrios made no mistake with a tidy finish.

The pre-match favourites continued to have the majority of possession, but struggled to break down Guizhou and indeed, it was the hosts who enjoyed the better chances. Rao Weihui saw a shot well blocked by Barrios midway through the second-half, before Guo Sheng struck the side netting with a well struck shot from the left.

In truth, there were few major chances for either side and Evergrande began to look to play out the match with next week’s return encounter in mind. They were not counting, though, on the stupidity of one of their most experienced players.

With 10 minutes left, national team forward Gao Lin saw yellow from the Australian referee for an initial show of dissent having been penalised for a foul in midfield. Not to be abated, Gao continued his protests forcefully in the face of the referee and, despite the efforts of team-mate Huang Bowen to move him away, managed to talk himself into a second yellow just seconds later. Gao insists he was merely asking why he had been booked and did not swear, but to those watching on his fate was clear and his behaviour unacceptable.

The match inevitably fizzled out and Guangzhou return home with the scores level and an away-goal safely secured. However, with the delicate nature of the tie in mind, Lippi, although publicly refusing to criticise his star, must have been furious at the actions of Gao so late in the encounter. Evergrande must now make do without the striker in next week’s decisive fixture.

Guizhou coach Gao Hongbo: “We have played Evergrande three times this year and I personally think this was our best performance. Over the 90 minutes we created a lot of chances in attack and in defence our luck was quite good. Even though the opposition were a man down, our defence still came under extreme pressure. We can accept this 1-1 in our final home game of the season in which we dedicate a fine match to the supporters. We have a week to prepare for the next game, but we have a few players suspended. It will be difficult. Our target will be the same as ever: to give our best.”

Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi: “At the start of the match we created a lot of pressure [for ourselves]. They took advantage of high balls and caused a lot of danger. But, after the opening 15 minutes we took the game into our own hands. Our attacking game in the first half was not satisfactory. We soon equalised in the second half, but I regret that we didn’t score a second goal. I don’t really understand why Gao Lin was punished. I am not criticising the referee, otherwise I will also be suspended, I just don’t understand why he was given a red card.”

Guizhou Renhe: Zhang Lie; Sun Jihai (Li Kai 76′), Nano, Zhang Chenglin, Guo Sheng; Chen Jie (Dulbic 56′), Yang Hao, Li Chunyu (Rao Weihui 46′), Yu Hai; Muslimovic, Rafa Jorda

Guangzhou Evergrande: Li Shuai; Feng Xiaoting, Kim Young-Gwon, Zhang Linpeng; Rong Hao (Feng Jiajun 67′), Zheng Zhi, Zhao Xuri (Huang Bowen 79′), Conca, Sun Xiang; Gao Lin, Cleo (Barrios 46′)

Based in Guangzhou, Christopher covers Chinese football for a range of media outlets worldwide and is Wild East Football's lead editor for news content.   His work can regularly be seen on ESPN FC, Bleacher Report and Hupu amongst other media outlets, while he has interviewed a number of leading figures in Chinese football.

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