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Qingdao Staring Down the Barrel After Defeat in Guangzhou

Guangzhou Evergrande 3-1 Qingdao Jonoon

Chinese Super League round 28

Huang Bowen 19′, Muriqui 39′, Conca 90+3′; Bruno Meneghel 64′

Guangzhou Evergrande were comfortable winners on Sunday night in a game that meant little to the league champions, preparing for their first ACL final appearance next weekend, but has left Qingdao Jonoon deep in relegation trouble.

The seasiders’ victory last weekend over Tianjin Teda had lifted them out of the drop-zone at Changchun Yatai’s expense, as well as raising eyebrows all across the country. Unfortunately for them, Tianjin’s sudden remarkable transformation from top of the table beaters to goal-leaking capitulators had continued earlier in the day as they fell to a 3-1 defeat to the Jilin club, dropping the Shandong side right back in it and leaving them needing a result at Tianhe Stadium.

Both teams lined up in 4-3-3 formations, with Qingdao fielding an all-foreign frontline, Bruno and Griffiths flanking their disappointing summer acquisition from Argentina, Pablo Caballero. In the absence of Elkeson, who had been handed a three match ban for his sending off against Liaoning Whowin midweek, Guangzhou started Gao Lin and Rong Hao up front with Muriqui. Feng Junyan was surprisingly started at right-back, but was no more use there than in any other position he’s been played at; one suspects that Lippi is under instructions to find some role for the only senior Cantonese member of the squad to play because he surely can’t be getting picked on the basis of his performances.

There was much pre-match speculation that Jonoon would attempt to emulate the physical approach of Liaoning that had so rattled Evergrande, but the referee seemed to have decided in advance that this would not be happening on his watch, with two Qingdao players going into the book within the first five minutes. Substitute Zhu Shiyu was bizarrely booked for slowly ambling around the perimeter of the pitch to drop something at Liu Zhenli’s goalpost before Yao Jiangshan was cautioned for a minor foul on Muriqui.

With the visitors cowed, Guangzhou utterly dominated the opening stages. Muriqui had had a goal correctly disallowed for a foul in the build-up before the home side went ahead nineteen minutes in. Li Peng took down Gao Lin on the edge of the box, earning a yellow card in the process, and Huang Bowen thumped the ball into the top right from the resulting free kick, with Liu making practically no effort to stop it.

The game fell a bit flat after the goal. Qingdao were pushing forward more but regularly were stopped in their tracks by excellent tackling from the home defense, with Feng Xiaoting particularly impressive. Evergrande concentrated their attacks down the left, Sun Xiang giving full back Li Zhuangfei a torrid time, but when the second came not long before half-time it was as a result of an error by ex-Evergrande defender Melkam. His heavy first touch just outside his own box gifted the ball to Rong Hao, who set Muriqui up to easily slot home.

Li was replaced at the break by midfielder Song Wenjie, with Zou Zheng moving to the right-back position. This solidified the Qingdao defense somewhat and, initially at least, the second half was closer, with chances at both ends. With half an hour to go, Sun Xiang was taken off for Feng Renliang, who took up position in the centre forward role. This may have been an interesting experiment on paper, but sadly the ex-Shenhua player just produced yet another comically inept performance, a decent last-minute headed effort notwithstanding.

Rong, who had mostly been proving wasteful up front, was switched to left back, and was the main culprit when the visitors halved the deficit three minutes later. He failed to adequately track Caballero when he chased a long ball down the right, allowing him to centre the ball for Bruno to force home, though the centre backs also seemed half-asleep. The Brazilian was by far the best player for the away team, as usual, and doesn’t deserve to be playing for a club of such limited ambition.

Caballero was replaced just after the goal, and Qingdao had to use their last substitute a few minutes later when Zou was injured in a clash with Huang. They sent on Zhu Shiyu (possibly the most overweight looking player I’ve seen at this level, especially for his young age) as replacement centre-forward, and his lack of pace combined with the home side’s high line meant chances for Jonoon were few and far between for the rest of the game as Guangzhou went back to dominating possession.

Muriqui, who should have been substituted much earlier given his importance for the upcoming final and the fact Qingdao players had been sliding into him all evening, needed treatment on the pitch after an awkward challenge twelve minutes from the end and was replaced by defender Yi Teng. Thankfully, the knock was nothing serious and he will be available for the weekend.

Griffiths sent an excellent cut-back by Bruno just over as the ninety minutes came to an end, but the draw would have been undeserved, a point underscored when Conca showed great individual skill to get Guangzhou’s third in injury time. The result means that to have a hope of staying up Qingdao simply must beat Jiangsu Sainty well at home in their next fixture and hope Changchun fail to win their remaining games or Hangzhou heavily lose theirs, as one would not fancy them to get anything at ACL spot chasing Beijing Guoan in their final match.

As for Guangzhou, there are much more important cup games ahead, but one would hope that in the remaining two league fixtures Lippi forgets about trying to find some use for Fengs Junyan and Renliang, who surely must be shipped out in the winter, and instead gives some game time to Cantonese youngsters Yang Chaosheng and Hu Weiwei who had impressed up front against Liaoning last time out.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 7 Feng Junyan; 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Conca; 33 Rong Hao, 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 14 Feng Renliang (for 32 Sun Xiang 60′), 8 Qin Sheng (for 16 Huang Bowen 75′), 3 Yi Teng (for 11 Muriqui 83′), 20 Ni Bo, 30 Yang Chaosheng, 34 Hu Weiwei

Qingdao Jonoon: 22 Liu Zhenli; 2 Guo Liang, 24 G. Melkam, 32 Li Peng, 16 Li Zhuangfei; 13 Quan Lei, 7 Yao Jiangshan, 25 Zou Zheng; 9 Bruno Meneghel, 39 Joel Griffiths, 12 Caballero
Subs: 28 Mou Pengfei, 19 Song Wenjie (for 16 Li Zhuangfei 46′), 18 Jiao Zhe (for 12 Caballero 65′), 29 Zhu Shiyu (for 25 Zou Zheng 68′), 4 Gustavo, 23 Song Long, 27 Ma Leilei

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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