Shandong Luneng 2-4 Guangzhou Evergrande
Marcena 10′, Roda Antar 78′; Zhao Xuri 6′, Rong Hao 39′, Gao Lin 45+2′, Zheng Zhi 64′
Chinese Super League Round 26
All they needed was a point, but Guangzhou Evergrande netted four for the fifth successive game on their way to a CSL-title-clinching victory over the only team left with a chance of overhauling them, Shandong Luneng. Despite the contrasting abundance of goals, this game lacked the intensity of the previous fixture between these two at Tianhe in June, but back then the stakes were much higher with the teams almost neck and neck in the table. The Cantonese side pulled away soon afterwards and both have been more or less assured of the their respective places in the top two for some time now.
Still there was plenty of attacking intent on display, and for a change all four of the Guangzhou team’s goals were from Chinese players. For all bar Gao Lin it was only their second in the CSL this year as the South American contingent have again dominated the scoring, and even here the Brazilians got three assists between them. It was an impressive haul against opponents of this calibre, especially considering they were without their most important Chinese player, the injured Zhang Linpeng, and their midfield maestro Conca.
Evergrande opened their account after just six minutes, when Zhao Xuri picked up an Elkeson chest-down in the box and surged past the Shandong defense on the left to fire between the legs of Yang Cheng. Unfortunately the goalscorer pulled up hurt shortly afterwards and had to be replaced by Feng Junyan.
The home side didn’t take long to respond, Macena scoring a slightly comically scrappy goal four minutes later, as he slowly and awkwardly bundled the ball over at the far post from a Lü Zheng cross. There was a suspicion of handball, but it looked more ball-to-hand than deliberate.
Shandong did look the more dangerous, with the away defense suffering a few hairy moments, some caused by awry short-range kick-outs from Zeng Cheng. It was Evergrande who scored next though, Rong Hao finishing off a Muriqui cross from close range after Gao Lin had just failed to reach it. The Henan native got name on the scoresheet for his 7th league goal of the season just before the break, thanks to Elkeson taking the keeper out with a clever (and generous) pass.
Muriqui hit the post after shortly after the restart, but it was an unbowed Shandong doing most of the attacking, though they had trouble getting shots on target. There was uproar when they were denied a penalty for what was seen as a foul by Zeng on Macena, but replays proved the decision correct.
Guangzhou increased their lead somewhat against the run of play nineteen minutes in. Zheng Zhi burst through the middle of his former club’s defense to pick up a through ball from Gao Lin and run on to slot past Yang; he declined to celebrate.
The Northerners responded by pushing harder, with another shaky performance from Zeng Cheng between the Evergrande sticks probably giving them belief they could get some consolation goals. Unusually, defenders were taking the goal-kicks in the later stages of the game, which may indicate that Zeng’s recent loss of form is more physical than mental.
The goalkeeper was blameless when Shandong eventually got their second with twelve minutes remaining though. Instead they had Rong Hao to thank for the chance as under pressure from Roda Antar he gifted the ball to him with a stupid short back pass supposedly intended for Kim Young-Gwon, and the Lebanese legend took full advantage to fire past a helpless Zeng.
The Jinan side continued to huff and puff to no avail for the remainder of the game and became quite heated when denied a penalty deep into injury time. They were probably justified, but regardless it seemed a bit silly to make such a fuss when they needed to score three to deny their opponents the title.
The result means that Guangzhou Evergrande are now officially the first team to top the CSL for three consecutive seasons (after last season becoming the first to win it two years running). Speaking of records, with home fixtures against relegated Wuhan and almost certainly relegated Qingdao among the four league games left, Elkeson surely must be confident he can score at least the four necessary to equal Li Jinyu’s all-time top CSL goal tally of 26.
In truth, the league this year has been more like a procession than a race, with Guangzhou head and shoulders above any other team in the country – indeed football-wise probably the best club side the domestic league has ever produced. While this scoreline was slightly harsh on Shandong, the fact that a Conca-less Evergrande can get an away result like this against their nearest domestic rivals, and after a midweek ACL game to boot, indicates a transition to life without just the Argentinian might be smoother than many expect.
There are strong rumours though that if the ACL is secured against FC Seoul, a number of key players besides Conca will be allowed to leave to try to establish careers in Europe, which could well make next year’s CSL substantially more competitive. In the meantime, there are still a number of matches left in which to enjoy the performances of a superb team at the height of their game.
Shandong Luneng: 1 Yang Cheng; 11 Wang Tong, 3 Du Wei, 4 Ryan McGowan, 16 Zheng Zheng; 18 Roda Antar, 33 Jin Jingdao, 24 Lü Zheng, 8 Wang Yongpo, 29 Gilberto Macena; 40 Vágner Love
Subs: 22 Shao Puliang, 9 Han Peng (for Gilberto Macena 60′), 27 Luo Senwen (for Wang Tong 66), 21 Liu Binbin (for 24 Lü Zheng 71′), 2 Liu Jindong, 17 Wu Xinghan, 28 Hao Junmin
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 33 Rong Hao; 16 Huang Bowen, 37 Zhao Xuri, 10 Zheng Zhi; 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 7 Feng Junyan (for 37 Zhao Xuri 15′), 4 Zhao Peng (for 6 Feng Xiaoting 75′), 2 Liao Lisheng, 8 Qin Sheng, 22 Ni Bo, 30 Yang Chaosheng