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Elkeson answers critics as Evergrande lay down marker for CSL 2013

Guangzhou Evergrande 5-1 Shanghai Shenxin

CSL Round 1

Conca 50′, Elkeson 61′,71′, Gao Lin 65′, Muriqui 88′; Yang Jiawei 89′

Guangzhou Evergrande got their 2013 CSL campaign off to a flying start with a 5-1 victory against Shanghai Shenxin at Tianhe Stadium. Yet if there was ever a match to support the old cliche of football being a game of two halves then this was it, with the Shanghai side looking the more dangerous in a goalless first half before Guangzhou ran rampant in the second.

Guangzhou kicked off playing a 3-5-2 formation, with Barrios and Elkeson up front, Conca lurking behind, Feng Renliang and Rong Hao patrolling the wings, and Huang Bowen and Zhao Xuri covering the same defensive line that featured in the loss to Jiangsu Sainty in last weekend’s Super Cup match. Shenxin played in 4-1-4-1 lineup, with the speedy and skillful Jaílton Paraíba up front initially causing all sorts of bother for the Evergrande back line.

While Guangzhou had the majority of possession in the first half, they were primarily hampered in attack by Barrios’ lack of mobility and dreadful first touch up front. Matters were not helped by Rong Hao’s tendency to dawdle on the ball rather than pass to Elkeson when the Brazilian was finding clear space to run into, and Feng Renliang’s frankly horrendous attempts at crossing from the right. It was a humiliation for him but a relief to everyone in the home crowd when he was hauled off even before half time arrived to be replaced by Sun Xiang; not an auspicious first start for the winter signing from Shanghai Shenhua.

Shenxin on the other hand played very well in the first half, particularly in the opening minutes. Paraíba made some great runs at the home side’s defense and in the 17th minute went down in the box under pressure from Feng Xiaoting and keeper Zeng Cheng in what looked at first glance like a penalty. He didn’t appeal however, and Wang Yun ended up sending the loose ball just wide of the right post. At the half-hour mark, Paraíba went down very easily just outside the box, and from the resulting free-kick Wang curled the ball over the wall and towards the top-right corner of the goal, only for Zeng to save brilliantly. It wasn’t the most powerful of free-kicks, but not many CSL keepers would have been able to get to it.

Antônio Flávio, linking up well with Paraíba, also threatened the Evergrande goal a couple of times, and the Shanghai side had another flurry of chances before the ref blew for the break, but the half-finished scoreless. The complexion of the game was to change entirely in the second-half however, as Barrios, who had been gingerly rubbing his groin area as the break approached, was replaced by Gao Lin. Whether the change was enforced by injury was unclear, but the big Paraguayan had contributed little of note bar a shot stopped on the line by Johnny in the 34th minute, and in fact seemed to hinder his side’s attacks more than help them, so the substitution was welcome.

Now that they had a front line that was actually willing to run around a bit, Guangzhou began dominating their opponents. A mere five minutes after the restart, a great cross from the right by Zhang Linpeng was nodded down in the box by Gao for Conca to fire low into the Shenxin net to open the scoring. The goal seemed to utterly deflate Shenxin, who spent the rest of the game very much on the back foot.

Minutes later another great ball from Zhang, this time from defense, sent Elkeson past Shenxin’s high defensive line and running at goal, only to be bundled over by Zhao Zuojun just outside the box. The referee decided to ignore the incident, but the recently arrived Brazilian had his revenge just after the hour mark, when Conca dummied a pass from Kim for him to collect at the edge of the box and send into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. The look of immense relief on his face after scoring was presumably due to the unjust slating he had received in the local press following his muted performance in last weekend’s Super Cup game against Jiangsu Sainty.

The game was over as a contest a few minutes later, when Gao got his name on the scoresheet after some great work by Rong Hao in the box, though the latter had admittedly been offside when receiving the ball from Elkeson. With the points in the bag, the home side eased off somewhat, but they hadn’t finished scoring. Rong, who was popping up everywhere by this stage, was provider again for the next goal, this time setting up Elkeson to blast in his second of the match with nearly twenty minutes left.

Conca had been replaced by Muriqui a few minutes earlier, and he was at the heart of most of the Cantonese side’s attacks for the rest of the game, setting up Gao three minutes from time for a great chance that was well blocked by Liu, and scoring himself a minute later after almost single-handedly taking on the Shenxin defense. It looked like the shot may have taken a deflection off Jiang Zhipeng on the way in, and the magnanimous Brazilian declined to rub salt into the wounds by refusing to celebrate his strike.

The goal celebration music had not yet died down when Shanghai substitute Yang Jiawei rounded Feng Xiaoting and scored an exquisitely lofted consolation goal. There was still time for Zeng to pull off another excellent save from a free-kick before the final whistle brought an end to a great second-half performance from the defending champions. Elkeson and Rong were particularly outstanding, while all the substitutes did very well after coming on. There will be greater tests in the season ahead, but if anyone thought the Super Cup loss was of any real significance, this display should set them straight.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 33 Rong Hao, 28 Young-Gwon Kim, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 37 Zhao Xuri, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 D. Conca (11 Muriqui 68′), 9 Elkeson, 14 Feng Renliang (32 Sun Xiang 39′), 18 L. Barrios (29 Gao Lin 46′)

Shanghai Shenxin: 25 Liu Dianzuo, 3 Zhao Zuojun, 33 Zhu Baojie, 6 M. Marrone (7 Xu Wen 70′), 18 Ge Zhen, 16 Yu Tao, 20 Wang Yun (10 Wang Jiayu 78′), 26 Johnny, 11 Jiang Zhipeng, 23 Antônio Flávio, 8 Jailton Paraíba (27 Yang Jiawei 81′)

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.

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