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Evergrande finally end brave Shenhua’s unbeaten run

Shanghai Shenhua 0-3 Guangzhou Evergrande

Chinese Super League round 8

Gao Lin 56,84, Zhang Linpeng 71

Attendance 23,457

Shanghai Shenhua’s unbeaten run came to an end on Friday night in a game against Guangzhou Evergrande, but if the result was predictable, the manner of Shenhua’s 0-3 defeat was not.

The home side completely dominated the first half and could have easily went in two or three goals up at half time, in a match afflicted by an eccentric refereeing performance.

But in a CSL thunderdome clash, two unbeaten teams entered, and one unbeaten team left, as Evergrande continued their habit of poor first half performances and strong finishes to win the match with three excellent goals after the break.

Marcello Lippi sent out with his Evergrande team with one eye on next week’s Asian Champion’s League clash, – mainstays Zheng Zhi and Muriqui were missing from the starting XI. In an intriguing move, former Shenhua winger Feng Renliang was given only his second CSL start of 2013.

Shenhua’s team was unchanged from the previous week with the exception of Cao Yunding being dropped to the bench in favour of Toranzo. Under-pressure Li Jianbin was a notable inclusion in the centre of defence – he is still a Guangzhou Evergrande player and is only on-loan to Shenhua.

The game was barely five minutes old when Shenhua made a statement of intent. Firas Al-khatib found himself unmarked at the edge of the box following a weak clearance. His fierce low left-footed shot was saved with an impressive leap from Guangzhou keeper Zeng Cheng. For the first 15 minutes, Shenhua were in full control and attacked the Guangzhou goal with several shots, however, accuracy was lacking.

Evergrande did not have much in the way of chances until the 17th minute. Shenhua defender Dai Lin, being played again out of position at right-back, made a dreadful mistake to send Lucas Barrios through on goal. However quick reactions from the Shenhua defensive unit saw the South American forced wide.

Shenhua shook off the scare and forced more saves out of Zeng Cheng, most notably around the 20 minute mark with a solid header from Gio Moreno. The Columbian went even closer around 10 minutes later when he had the ball in the net following a great through ball from Song Boxuan. However, the correct decision was made – Moreno had moved a fraction too early and had received the ball in an offside position.

The Shenhua captain should have done much better however in the next Shenhua attack. Some great skill on the left from Al-Khatib allowed the Syrian forward to put in an inch-perfect cross for Moreno. However, the 6ft 3 playmaker completely fluffed the header when it looked easier to score. This passage of play came after a period of substantial Shenhua domination and that the homeside would remain goalless after it told a large part of the story of the match.

Evergrande’s goal-machine Elkeson, who was having a quite game, came close with a bicycle kick on the left side of the six yard box just before half time, but he couldn’t get his effort on target. Half-time 0-0, and the gulf in talent and budget between the two sides was invisible.

The teams came out in the second half, and it was no surprise that Evergrande took the upper hand in the opening stages of the second 45. The Cantonese giants stepped up their frequency of attacks, as Lucas Barrios tested Wang Dalei from distance, redressing the balance of the match. But the scales would be tipped in the 56th minute, when Barrios neatly laid off the ball to Gao Lin and the former Shenhua man drilled in a low shot from the edge of the box which took a slight deflection on the way in. The visitors now had the lead.

After this point, Shenhua’s heads went down, they had their chances to score in the first half and they knew against a team of Evergrande’s calibre such wastage would not go unpunished. In the 58th minute, Evergrande almost doubled their lead when Barrios was just slightly to far behind the ball to head Elkeson’s cross into the net. The reigning champions wouldn’t have to wait long however to double their lead. Defender Zhang Linpeng hit a stunning low shot from the edge of the box following a cleared corner, which dipped wickedly inside Wang Dalei’s left hand post and right into the net. 2-0 and Shenhua’s famed comeback powers would really be tested if the home side were to take anything from this game.

Shenhua pushed forward but, shorn of the confidence they enjoyed with their dominance in the first half, their chances were few in the second. Guangzhou were having much more of the ball and had several opportunities to extend their scoring further. Finally, six minutes from time, Gao Lin scored his second and Evergrande’s third with a good first touch on the left of the box and a delightful chip over the head of Shenhua custodian Wang Dalei, into the far corner of the net. And that is how it finished, 3-0.

Overall the match was a good advert for the CSL and despite Shenhua’s defeat, the home side’s players were given a rapturous applause at the end of the match. Certainly their first half performance was one of the finest seen at Hongkou for many a season. Serigo Batista must have had a bittersweet feeling after the game – he had lambasted his side in previous games for their poor starts and needing to come back to win games. This time Shenhua played out of their skin in the first half, but faded in the second. But as we all know, especially Marcello Lippi, it’s better to finish strongly than start brightly then fade, and this is the platform Evergrande’s leadership of the CSL is built on this year.

In summary, Shenhua can take a lot of encouragement from this performance, and surely few would disagree that the result was rather flattering for Evergrande. The Cantonese were made to look very ordinary in the first half – overall possession in the game was 51-49 in favour of Shenhua. The home side had 15 shots on goal with 5 on target, compared to Evergrande’s 17 and 7. Overall the stats showed the only unbalanced figure was the scoreline.

Shenhua paid the price for not taking their chances in the first half, had they done so, it would have been a totally different game in the second half.

That said, Evergrande clearly had one eye on the ACL next week, and undoubtedly they will not regard this game as one of their better performances, they did not play particularly well against Shenhua but still managed to come away with a result. Talent-wise this is a team ahead of the rest of the league and unfortunately this result further strengthens the one-handed grip Evergrande already has on the CSL trophy.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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