Jiangsu Sainty got their 2013 campaign off on the right foot with a 2-1 victory over CSL newcomer Whuan Zall in front of 28,357 fans last Friday evening at Nanjing Olympic Sports Stadium.
Playing without 2012 league MVP and Golden Boot winner Cristian Dănălache, Jiangsu managed to generate some offense with a pair of goals off the heads of Sun Ke and recent signee Hamdi Salihi. Whuan’s lone goal came off a wonderful volley from Li Wei, but the visitors were unable to upset the hosts as Jiangsu took it’s first step in their quest to return to the Asian Champions League for a second year in a row.
The lineup for Jiangsu was full of familiar faces for the Nanjing fans. A defense that gave up a league low 29-goals last season returned all four starters with Liu Jianye, Ren Hang, and foreign players Komoliddin Tadjiev of Uzbekistan and Eleílson of Brazil. Starting in the midfield were Ji Xiang, Zhou Yun, Belarusian Sergey Krivets, and former Shanghai Shenhua man Wu Xi. Up top were forwards Sun Ke and Serbian Aleksandar Jevtić.
Wuhan fielded a lineup consisting of many young players. Noteable players included Cho Won-Hee, a Korean midfielder whose resume boasts stints at Suwon Bluewings, Wigan Athletic, and two years with CSL giant Guangzhou Evergrande. After spending five season at Dalian Shide forward Zhu Ting brings his national team experience to Wuhan as he got the start up top.
As the action got underway the first real scoring opportunity came in the 22nd minute as Wu Xi found himself unmarked on the far side of the goal, only to shoot the ball directly at goal keeper Wu Yan. At the opposite post stood three Jiangsu players who almost in unison threw their hands up in disbelief as the youngster declined to pass any one of them the ball.
Roughly 15-minutes later Wuhan would have their first crack on goal as Brazilian Santos Junior stuck an acrobatic volley shot that would have been very impressive if it hadn’t gone straight at Jiangsu keeper Deng Xiaofei.
After a scoreless first half it would be the home side that would break the deadlock in the 55th minute. A string of crafty passes set up Aleksandar Jevtić who made a wonderful cross that found second half sub Hamid Salihi who made a diving header that sent Wu Yan the wrong direction as the ball slipped in the goal at the far post. As wonderful of a goal as it was the passes that set the play up were even more impressive. It started with a header by Eleílson that went to Ji Xiang who made a one touch pass to Liu Jianye. Liu also made a one touch pass up field to Jevtić who in turn made a one touch pass across the pitch to Salihi who made sure all that hard work didn’t go to waste by heading the ball on target. The ball traveled almost the entire distance of the field and was touched by five different Jiangsu players, once each.
Just over 10-minutes later Jiangsu would double their lead. Off a throw in the ball found Wu Xi at the top of the box who thankfully passed up the long range shot attempt and sent the ball out to Zhou Yun. Zhou sent in a long cross that reached the far end of the goal where Sun Ke rose up over a Wuhan defender to head the ball past Wu Yan.
Wuhan wouldn’t go away quietly though and pulled one back in the 69th minute. Nigerian Chukwuma Akabueze displayed some very fancy footwork in the corner of the field to free up enough space to get a cross in to the top of the box. An unmarked Li Wei made the most of the opportunity and hit an absolute rocket of a volley that blew past Deng Xiaofei.
With their lead trimmed to one Jiangsu buckled down and held off Wuhan to earn the full three points. The match was closer than one would have expected, so credit must be given to upstart Wuhan. Next week Jiangsu will receive a stiff test as they travel to Guangzhou to take on Evergrande.