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Evergrande battle to Victory over Stubborn Shenhua

Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 Shanghai Shenhua

China Super League Round 24

Gao Lin 50, Elkeson 81; Moreno 54(pen)

Tianhe Stadium saw one of its more exciting and entertaining league games in recent months as Guangzhou Evergrande bounced back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Shanghai Shenhua. The home side had to work hard for the three points and ended up only scoring the winner after their opponents had gone a man down, despite dominating the contest in terms of possession and chances.

The home side’s timid loss last time out to Tianjin Teda and upcoming ACL fixture in Qatar had led to speculation that they would field a number of non-regulars here, but there were no notable absentees from the side besides South Korean defender Kim Young-Gwon, who had started for his national team against Croatia on Tuesday. In his absence Zhang Linpeng moved to the centre, with Rong Hao filling in impressively at right back.

Shenhua lined up in a defensive 4-5-1, with Firas Al Khatib mostly isolated up front as his teammates concentrated on keeping bodies in their own half. Much maligned veteran Jiang Kun started on the right of midfield, giving Guangzhou-based football fans a chance to marvel in person at his bulk and incredible lack of mobility and pace.

Evergrande opened up very much on the front foot, with the on-form Gao Lin having a header saved within two minutes. The Shanghai side set out with an overtly physical gameplan for countering their table-topping opponents, but this had to be tempered somewhat after two yellow cards within the first ten minutes, for cynical fouls from Schiavi and Wang Changqing. Yet for all their possession and attacking intent, Guangzhou initially looked rather blunt in front of goal, with Muriqui’s first touch repeatedly deserting him at vital moments.

Shenhua defended doggedly, and broke for the occasional counter, though the only result of consequence was another booking when Song Boxuan shot after the ref had blown for offside. The match drifted into a humdrum affair, with the home side’s frustration at their inability to crack Shenhua’s packed defense expressed in Gao Lin’s caution for a silly retaliation foul on Song.

As the break approached however, Evergrande stepped up a gear and came increasingly close to scoring, Muriqui skimming the crossbar just before the whistle. They picked up where they left off after the restart and finally broke the deadlock five minutes in when Elkeson sent a lovely cross to the far post from the corner of the box. The diminutive Bo Jiajun failed to stretch to the ball, allowing Gao Lin behind him to nod into the top of the net from a tight angle.

Visitor’s perspective
From Cameron Wilson, Shenhua correspondent

Shenhua will feel disappointed to have come to close to grabbing an away point but the team can’t have any complaints about the result. The gulf in class between the two sides has never been bigger, Marcello Lippi must have been chuckling into his cigar as the sight of Jiang Kun struggling to keep up with play. Once again however, refereeing decisions unduly influenced a CSL match, – very debatable penalty, Schiavi staying on the pitch after a professional foul, Wang’s harsh second yellow, and a blatantly wrong offside call against Shenhua’s Song just a few of the bad calls on show.

Bo didn’t have long to wait for revenge. Within three minutes Shenhua were awarded a penalty, when the referee harshly judged Gao to have taken him down in the box. Captain Moreno stepped up and swept the spot-kick home to bring the tie back to level pegging.

For reasons unclear, Feng Xiaoting had been replaced at half time by Zhao Xuri, with Zheng Zhi dropping into the centre of defense in his place, a position he hadn’t filled for the club for some time. He wasn’t tested much though, as Shenhua spent most of the remainder of the game packed into their own third of the field in an effort to hold out against the home side’s incessant onslaught.

Evergrande had three seperate noteworthy chances in the 58th minute alone and Gao Lin finished a fantastic movement on the hour with a shot that bounced off the near post and trickled across the face of goal before going out of play. The forward, perhaps stung by his exclusion from the most recent national squad, was a constant menace in an eye-catchingly committed performance.

Besides hopeful long balls easily dealt with, the Shanghainese could only counter with seemingly interminable stretches of time-wasting, with goalkeeper Wang Dalei (who otherwise had an excellent game) being a particularly egregious culprit. Having been booked halfway through the first half for arguing with his own teammate, Wang gambled (correctly) on the referee not having the courage to send him off for dallying at every opportunity, though substitute Cao Yunding did see yellow for standing too long over a free kick.

Their hopes of holding out for a draw were dealt a severe blow twenty minutes before the end when Wang Changqing received a second yellow for a clumsy high boot on Muriqui. The Cantonese side’s relentless offensive efforts finally reaped reward ten minutes later when substitute Zheng Long crossed for the constantly menacing Elkeson to strike home. There was an element of luck to the winner, with the Elk having headed the ball into Bo’s back before rifling the rebound into the net, but it was the very least the hosts deserved after twenty-odd minutes of peppering their opponents goal.

Evergrande began winding down the game and, with nothing left to lose, Shenhua reverted to plan A. Dai Lin should have been given a 2nd yellow for clipping Elkeson outside the box but got away with just a free kick, and a foul by Bo on the young Brazilian in the dying moments instigated a lengthy bout of push-and-shove between the two teams.

With the home side momentarily distracted, Shanghai broke forward and for a moment it looked like the comeback specialists were going to claim yet another unlikely point, but Zhang Linpeng blocked the eventual shot and with that the referee brought the contest to an end.

That wasn’t the last of the action on the pitch though, as Elkeson squared up to Dai immediately after the final whistle, provoking another fairly harmless melee. Four Shenhua players refused to stick around for the mandatory post-match handshakes and those that remained found themselves showered with plastic water cups from the enraged crowd on their way back to the dressing room. Cups and bottles were also exchanged between the home and away fans.

The result was quite meaningless in terms of both teams’ league prospects, but it will be interesting to see what the CFA make of the scenes at the end. Evergrande looked in better form than before the international break, but in the run up to Wednesday night’s massive ACL fixture fans will be hoping that Feng Xiaoting’s withdrawal at half-time here was just a precautionary measure rather than an indication of serious injury trouble.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 33 Rong Hao; 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Conca; 9 Elkeson, 29 Gao Lin, 11 Muriqui
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 37 Zhao Xuri (for 6 Feng Xiaoting 46′), 12 Zheng Long (for 16 Huang Bowen 76′), 7 Feng Junyan (for Sun Xiang 84′), 4 Zhao Peng, 8 Qin Sheng, 30 Yang Chaosheng

Shanghai Shenhua: 1 Wang Dalei, 12 Bai Jiajun, 2 R. Schiavi, 5 Dai Lin, 7 Wang Changqing; 8 Song Boxuan, 10 Moreno, 36 Wang Shouting, 21 Jiang Kun, 27 P. Toranzo; 11 Firas Al Khatib
Subs: 22 Qiu Shengjiong, 28 Cao Yunding (for Jiang Kun 65′), 20 Xu Liang (for Song Boxuan 71′), 19 Zheng Kaimu (for G. Moreno 77′), 9 Dady, 17 Xiong Fei, 33 Yan Song

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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