Continuing the trend of high scoring games on the opening weekend of the CSL, Guangzhou R&F lost 4 -2 to Liaoning Whowin in an action packed game at Yuexiushan. Debutant Edu scored twice for the visitors but R&F had 65% of the possession, 25 shots, a goal disallowed and a penalty not given so will feel hard done by not having at least shared the points.
The Yuexiushan Stadium looked and sounded very different from last year; blue, plastic seats have been fitted on-top of the old concrete bleachers and as the club enters its second full season in Guangzhou more supporters groups have sprung up which improved the atmosphere.
Liaoning lost Yang Xu and Yu Hanchao in the off-season but replaced them with Edu and James Chamanga, both of whom were handed debuts. For R&F Zhang Yaokun was the only new face in the starting line-up but due to injury problems he was played out of position as a defensive midfielder.
R&F made a good start and almost scored with their first attack but this good work was undone when Liaoning did score with theirs. The Liaoning forwards showed greater desire to win three 50/50 headers in a row and from the resulting throw in Chamanga twisted and turned on the edge of the area before firing a rocket past Cheng Yuelei in the R&F goal.
Yakubu almost instantly produced what would be the miss of the season except that he failed to even connect with Rafael Coelho’s low, hard cross when the goal was at his mercy. All of R&F’s foreigners would combine for the equaliser though. Australian Royston Griffiths saw his lob shot come back off the cross-bar and Davi was immediately awarded a soft free kick for being nudged in the back. Liaoning, out to defend their early lead, had all ten outfield players in the wall but Coelho’s freekick somehow found a way through it. Zhang Lu in the Liaoning goal was so surprised that he spilled it and who else but Yakubu was on hand to put away the rebound.
With each R&F supporters groups being encouraged to make more noise than their rivals, let alone the thirty or so Liaoning fans, the Cantonese side continued to press but Liaoning scored against the run of play after 28 minutes. Edu darted in front of Li Zhe to control Zheng Tao’s shot and then tucked it away to give the North Easterners the advantage again.
Despite R&F’s half time substitutions and waves of pressure it stayed like this until the hour mark when Liaoning scored following a rapid counter attack. Jin Taiyan’s swerving run confused centre back Xu Bo and allowed Jin to latch onto a through ball and lob Cheng Yuelei and make it 3 – 1.
R&F thought they’d hit back with substitute Jiang Ning’s header only to see it disallowed for pushing. Whilst there was contact your correspondent thinks it fell into the ‘seen them given’ category so R&F were understandably aggrieved when it wasn’t. It got worse when the referee then refused to give a penalty for what looked like a blatant kick at Coelho’s kneecap by defender Wang Bo. It’s easy to criticise referees for not getting everything right as it’s a difficult job, especially when not helped by the linesmen, but the way the referee reacted cannot be defended. Instead of trying to calm the R&F players down the referee responded by squaring up to them and was nose-to-nose with Davi, having earlier been nose-to-nose with R&F right back Liu Cheng and needing to be separated by Xu Bo. As somebody paid to maintain order on the pitch the referee’s aggressive response was unacceptable as it went beyond being firm and confident in his decisions to being outright provocative.
Liaoning remained undisturbed by this and extended their lead on another counterattack as Li Zhe’s sliding tackle only poked the ball to substitute Yang Yu who fed Edu to double his tally. Some fair-weather R&F fans had had enough by this point and began to walkout, even having the cheek to tell the supporters groups to make more noise, but many stopped when Coelho’s goal gave R&F a glimmer of hope. Coelho had continually taken on, and beaten, Zheng Tao on his outside all game,the only time Coelho stepped inside he should have had a penalty, and Zheng hadn’t learned from his mistakes as he allowed Coelho to squirm past him and a teammate before the Brazilian found space from an acute angle to put the ball between Zhang and his near post.
There were no further goals though as Liaoning produced a perfect away performance to soak up the pressure and hit R&F on the counter attack for four goals with James Chamanga very impressive for his all-round energy. R&F meanwhile will be pleased with the way that they dominated the game but will have to work hard on their shooting in training as it will be a long time before they’re allowed 25 shots in one game again. There will be complaints about the referee, if the goal or penalty had been given it would have given twenty minutes to close the deficit which was one goal at that stage, but R&F still created enough chances to win so only have themselves to blame.