Guangdong Sunray Cave 2 – 1 Chengdu Blades
China League One Round 1
It was the first game of the season at Guangdong Provincial Stadium and a Sunray side which saw a lot of changes both off and on the pitch during the winter came up against the Chengdu Blades. A sometimes heated game, there were few chances but lots or talking points.
The match kicked off to a surprisingly loud ovation. Guangdong had a large contingent of drum banging Cantonese chanting spectators. Even Chengdu had a small but vocal drum-equipped support.
Both teams started with a 442 formation and even though in the first few minutes both teams were finding their feet, Chengdu managed to score. A cross from the left wing found Chengdu number 7 Gao Xiang on the right side of the box who volleyed it into the net. A spectacular opening, yet the match seemed to fall away in quality from that moment. As the game went on Sunray Cave started to play a 424 formation. Attacking and ambitious it also left a large gap in central midfield between the defensive players and the attacking 4. This meant that Guangdong had problems getting the ball past the Chengdu midfield and would frequently hit hopeful long balls for the Brazilian Sunray number 10, Dori.
After the early Chengdu goal, the game settled down at a rather surprisingly slow pace. Both teams lost possession through bad touches, poor passing or panicked defensive clearances. Overall Guangdong had the better of the chances but these came mainly from set pieces. In open play both teams were struggling to control the flow of the game. Chengdu mainly attacked down the right wing, Gao Xing proving to be a strong and dangerous threat. Sunray changed things around and brought on all-time leading Hong Kong goalscorer Chan Siuki for the left midfielder Li Jian.
Sunray seem to have three problems. Firstly, they are not a physical side and their lack of strength was exploited by Chengdu who had little problem barging them off the ball. This, and Sunray’s lack of height meant that most headers were mostly met by a player in red. The third, and as it turned out, the biggest problem was that Sunray did not attack as a team. There were many instances when the defence would bring the ball to the half way line, pass, and then stay on the line. There were no overlapping runs or any movement further forward. The left back hardly crossed into the attacking third of the pitch and seemed to want to stay in a defensive position. Sunray seemed at times quite happy to pass it amongst the defenders but when getting the ball forward could not seem to pass it well and the players stubbornly refused to run with the ball and find space themselves. Sunray’s new foreign signing, Uruguayan Carlos Garcia, playing as centre back in the back four did well and without him Sunray would have had little or no strength in defence.
Sunray’s luck changed on the 33rd minute. After a shot from Sunray’s Cameroon forward Awal hit the post, the follow-up shot has handled by Chengdu midfielder Wang Erzhou. Awal immediately picked up the ball and complained to the referee, who at this time had not decided anything. With the ref still dithering, both teams ran to the linesman pleading their cases. Finally, after a lengthy conference with the linesman, the ref blew for a penalty and sent Wang off. Dori cooly slotted the penalty and Sunray were back!
With Chengdu reduced to 10 players, you would have thought that Sunray Cave would make the advantage count and play with a bit more of an attacking intent. This, frustratingly, was not the case. Sunray still suffered from a slight conservatism going forward and the problems highlighted before. Chengdu still enjoyed good periods of possesion. Their central midfielders made it difficult for Sunray to get to the forward line. Chengdu are a physically strong team who can pass effectively but seem to be slightly slow at the front. After 33 minutes it took a deft piece of skill from Dori to put Sunray ahead. On the edge of the box, Dori managed to simultaneously turn and pass, releasing Awal on the right. Awal then managed to cross low for Hong Kong left winger Leung Chunpong to volley into the bottom left corner. A rather magical moment in a rather ordinary game.
The second half was much the same as the first, Sunray failing to capitalise on their advantage and almost in an absurd act of sportsmanship, letting Chengdu have decent spells of possession. Chengdu switched to a 4311 formation and, to their credit, never gave up on an equaliser. The central midfield paring of Zhang Bo and Wu Bo running forwards and backwards with equal vigour.
The Sunray keeper, who had little to do in the first half had to make a few decent saves to keep a stubborn Chengdu side from coming back into the game. At the opposite end the Chengdu keeper was the busier of the two, but still Sunray seemed to be unable to crate chances in open play. The left back Guo Zichao was eventually brought off for Liu Yuchen. Chunpong could have finished the game off after being neatly set up by fellow HK’er Chan Siuki, but his volley on the edge of the box went straight to the keeper.
The game’s ending mirrored its beginning, with another sending off. This time it was a Sunray player, Captain Liu Tao, whose 80th minute reckless challenge left Gao Xiang writhing on the floor in agony. While the ref was busy waving players away, he seemed to fail to notice Gao Xin clearly in pain on the floor and the 5 or 6 Chengdu staff members frantically waving at the ref for permission to come onto the pitch. In the end Gao Xiang picked himself up, with no help from his team mates and carried on with the game.
Sunray managed to hang on and win the game, although the final moments were not all that comfortable with Sunray’s boss screaming on the touchline and losing his patience with Sunray’s wasteful possession. Even though Guangdong made many changes over summer this side very much looks like a work in progress. Better coordination between front and back and a less conservative defence would be positive changes. Chengdu on the other hand may feel that even with 10 men they could have sneaked an equaliser. They never let Guangdong’s numerical and physiological advantage pay. Guangdong play 5 of their first 6 games at home, this gives them more than enough time for the new signings and new management team to gel and improve on the pitch. In the meantime 3 points will do and Sunray manage to make a positive start to the season. Guangzhou have yet another footballing victory to shout about.