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Stalemate at Tianhe Keeps Shandong Luneng Title Hopes Alive

Guangzhou Evergrande 0-0 Shandong Luneng
China Super League Round 12
Attendance: 48,013

A superb defensive performance from Shandong Luneng saw them become the first team this season to keep a clean sheet against Guangzhou Evergrande in the CSL. While they failed to score themselves, they and their supporters will surely return to Jinan happy with a result that shares the points and means the Cantonese leaders remain very much in their sights.

Ignore whatever the official attendance figures say – the 58’500 seater Tianhe stadium was absolutely packed to the rafters for this one, with the largest contingent of away fans I’ve ever seen at Tianhe for a CSL game and plenty of disconsolate ticketless local fans stuck outside.

The home side strove to impress but were left with plenty of cause to rue their luck on the night; the victims of a couple of bad offside calls at crucial moments, they also saw a penalty saved and a host of presentable opportunities to score squandered. As this was their third game in seven days, fatigue played a part too, with energy levels fading noticeably in the second half.

However, this takes nothing away from the performance of their defensively unshakeable opponents. Their Australian import Ryan McGowan (read contributor Peter Davies‘ pre-match interview with him here) put in a particularly impressive shift at the heart of the back-line. He was a constant thorn in the side of Evergrande attackers throughout, but special mentions must go to stunning contributions in the 37th minute, when he cut the ball away from Muriqui from behind as he was shaping to score, and ten minutes from the end when he stretched to intercept a cross from the same player to a well-placed Barrios.

Muriqui (who spoke at length to ‘s Chris Atkins earlier in the week) was Guangzhou’s most dangerous and effective player here, perhaps eager to impress his month and a half old son (who he had brought onto the pitch before the game) or maybe driven by annoyance with the yellow card he picked up for diving twelve minutes in. Despite setting up a number of chances for himself and others, no goal was forthcoming, and his obvious frustration peaked when he inadvertently blocked a goal-bound Zhang Linpeng header from a corner two minutes before the final whistle.

Most of the rest of the team did their jobs about as well as could be expected too, and a shot on target seven minutes in apart, Shandong spent most of the first half under a state of siege. The only real surprise in Guangzhou’s line-up was Feng Junyan on the right getting his first start of the season. He did well at times, providing good scoring opportunities to Zheng Zhi and Elkeson, and he almost got on the score sheet himself after being set up by the Elk but was denied by an illegitimate offside call. Several passes went astray too though, and he was replaced at half-time by Gao Lin.

Elkeson missed a couple of chances he would normally have done better with and generally looked less lively than usual – understandable given he’d already played 180 minutes this week. He did win the penalty 27 minutes in though, falling over the goalkeeper’s arms after knocking the ball away from both him and the goal.

If there was trickery involved in the winning of the penalty, that must have just made Geng’s excellent save feel even sweeter; Conca struck down the middle but although he had dived, the keeper managed to block the shot with his legs. Guangzhou were badly organised for the penalty with only Elkeson available for the rebound, which he headed straight into his Argentinian teammate.

The Elk was replaced after an hour by Barrios, returning from the injury sustained a fortnight ago in his excellent cameo against Liaoning. Despite the substitutions, Shandong looked more comfortable in the second half, as Barrios reverted to his previous hesitant and unsure self when with the ball in front of goal and Gao was relatively subdued.

Although Shandong spent much of the closing stages resting as various members of their team went down requiring treatment for ‘cramp’, it almost looked like they would snatch it at the death. After Zhang’s blocked header was cleared, Kim underhit an unwise back-pass to Zeng Cheng, and the keeper had to come tearing out of his box to just beat the energetic Lü Zheng in a race to the loose ball.

Victory would have been undeserved, but Shandong were good value for their point and made a strong case against calling the 2013 CSL title at this early stage.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 32 Sun Xiang, 7 Feng Junyan, 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Conca; 11 Muriqui, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 29 Gao Lin (for Feng Junyan 46′), 18 Barrios (for Elkeson 62′), 33 Rong Hao (for Sun Xiang 77′), 4 Zhao Peng, 8 Qin Sheng, 37 Zhao Xuri

Shandong Luneng: 12 Geng Xiaofeng, 11 Wang Tong, 2 Liu Jindong, 4 Ryan McGowan, 16 Zheng Zheng; 18 Roda Antar, 7 Cui Peng, 24 Lü Zheng, 8 Wang Yongpo, 39 Yang Xu; 9 Han Peng
Subs: 1 Yang Cheng, 5 Wang Qiang (for Wang Tong 61′), 33 Jin Jingdao (for Cui Peng 61′), 20 Wang Gang (for Han Peng 71′), 6 Zhou Haibin, 10 Pisculichi, 30 Niculae

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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