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Evergrande Defeat Guoan Home and Away to Claim CFA Final Berth

CFA Cup Semi-final, both legs

Beijing Guoan 0-1 Guangzhou Evergrande

Muriqui 80′

Guangzhou Evergrande 6-3 Beijing Guoan

Elkeson 33′, Conca 43′, 89′, Zhang Linpeng 58′, Huang Bowen 78′, Muriqui 80′; Utaka 55′, 67′, 69′

Guangzhou Evergrande will face Guizhou Renhe in the final of the Chinese FA Cup after a resounding 7-3 aggregate victory over the country capital’s premier side. Both games were entertaining affairs though in quite different ways, as a tight 1-0 away victory was followed by a goal-fest at Tianhe Stadium.

Before the first leg, much was made of the fact that despite Evergrande having recently claimed the Asian Champion’s League title on top of their third consecutive domestic league trophy, they had yet to record a victory against Guoan at the Worker’s Stadium. As expected, the home side went for the jugular from the off and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Zhang Linpeng clumsily took down Zhang Xizhe in the box two minutes in.

First Leg Highlights:

It didn’t take long for Evergrande to take control of the game however, and they were soon dominating possession and their opponents’ half of the field, though Guoan looked dangerous on the counter. Neither team had much in the way of decent chances in a first half that was notable more for weak refereeing than the quality of the football, with numerous niggly professional fouls going unpunished.

As the home side grew increasingly frustrated at their inability to retain the ball for any useful length of time, they took a leaf out of Liaoning’s book and began resorting to the dark arts, booting Guangzhou players into the air and then rolling around the ground claiming victimhood.

Things threatened to get out of control just before half time, when Muriqui responded to an atrocious two-footed Zhang Xinxin challenge by grabbing his assailant by his collar and loudly reprimanding him. Zhang collapsed prostrate clutching his untouched face, but despite being surrounded by screaming home players professing mock outrage, the referee merely issued the Guangzhou striker a yellow card, one of the few sensible decisions he made all game.

The referee’s decision directly impacted on the result as Muriqui scored the only goal of the game ten minutes from full time, showing incredible skill and speed to finish off a one-two with Elkeson. Guangzhou had had the better chances in a less violent second half, but had to endure a belated flurry of offensive manoeuvres from Beijing, including a Kanouté free kick that went narrowly wide and a bout of pinball right at the death after Zeng Cheng dropped a cross, before the whistle put the seal on a historic victory.

Things may have been different if Guoan’s much-trumpeted starlet Zhang Xizhe had not had to be substituted in the first half due to a knee injury incurred in a tackle on Gao Lin. His subsequent enforced absence from the return fixture, combined with the one goal advantage, had the Tianhe crowd in a confident and buoyant mood four nights later, though heavy rain kept the numbers in attendance lower than expected.

Second Leg Highlights:

The mood of possibly premature celebration could only have been enhanced by the previous night’s crowning of Evergrande as club of the year and Muriqui and Zheng Zhi as best foreign and Asian players of the year respectively at the annual AFC awards. The decision to send the players to Malaysia to collect their prizes, fly them back overnight, and then start them in this fixture seemed questionable at best, but first-half goals from Elkeson and Conca that sent the home side in at half-time three up on aggregate made the issue seem moot.

The match was competitive and entertaining, but many fans found as much entertainment in watching cops pursue the numerous large soft-toy turtles that were being tossed around the crowd. The party mood seemed to infect the increasingly lackadaisical Evergrande defense, as Beijing came out with renewed vigour in the second half. The Northerners squandered a number of good chances before a Kanouté through ball was finished off clinically by Utaka ten minutes in.

A superbly powerful header by Zhang Linpeng three minutes later restored Guangzhou’s advantage, but Utaka completed his hat-trick with two quick-fire goals at the mid-point of the half to bring the scoreline to 3-3 on the night and Guoan to within a goal of the lead in the tie.

Just as the crowd began to fear that they were about to witness the unthinkable, ex-Guoan player Huang Bowen spun in the box to send a low shot past Yang Zhi for a third goal in less than four minutes of play. He declined to celebrate, while in a surprising sop to the small group of Beijing fans present, the club refrained from the customary display of the goalscorer’s picture on the big screen.

Having come so close to taking the lead, the Guoan players seemed to lose the plot somewhat thereafter. A minute after Huang’s goal, Kanouté saw yellow for petulantly kicking the ball away after being penalised for a foul on Conca, and his teammates seemed to get more interested in trying to hurt their opponents than score again, ably assisted by another weak refereeing performance.

In between a couple of minor melees and calls from the crowd for resident hard man Qin Sheng to be introduced, Muriqui scored a wonderful Henry-esque fifth and Conca took advantage of a Yang fumble to make it 7-3 on aggregate. In injury time, Kanouté saw red literally and figuratively, being sent off for a silly, pointless hack at Feng Xiaoting near the corner flag to put an ignominious end to a glittering career.

Guangzhou will now go on to face Guizhou Renhe in the CFA Cup final, away on the 1st of December and at home on the 7th, with both games kicking off at 4pm. If Guizhou win, they will enter 2014’s Champion’s League at the group stage and send Guoan into the qualifying play-off, while the situations will be reversed if Evergrande achieve an unprecedented treble.

First leg lineups:

Beijing Guoan: 22 Yang Zhi; 20 Zhang Xinxin, 13 Xu Yunlong, 18 Lang Zheng, 68 Zhang Chengdong; 5 Matić, 39 Piao Cheng, 10 Zhang Xizhe, 11 Kanouté, 26 Wang Hao; 15 Utaka
Subs: 39 Shao Jiayi (for 10 Zhang Xizhe ’37), 4 Zhou Ting (for 26 Wang Hao ’74)

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 37 Zhao Xuri, 10 Zheng Zhi, 15 Conca; 9 Elkeson, 29 Gao Lin, 11 Muriqui
Subs: 16 Huang Bowen (for 37 Zhao Xuri 65′), 4 Zhao Peng (for 29 Gao Lin 91′), 8 Qin Sheng (for 10 Zheng Zhi 93′)

Second leg lineups:

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Conca; 9 Elkeson, 29 Gao Lin, 11 Muriqui
Subs: 37 Zhao Xuri (for 29 Gao Lin 64′), 7 Feng Junyan (for 10 Zheng Zhi 74′)

Beijing Guoan: 22 Yang Zhi; 20 Zhang Xinxin, 13 Xu Yunlong, 18 Lang Zheng, 4 Zhou Ting; 5 Matić, 39 Piao Cheng, 26 Wang Hao, 11 Kanouté, 68 Zhang Chengdong; 15 Utaka
Subs: 2 Krimets (for 5 Matić ’44), 8 Guerrón (for 26 Wang Hao ’44), 7 Yang Yun (for 4 Zhou Ting ’62)

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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