Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 (2-3 agg.) Guizhou Renhe
CFA Cup Final, second leg
Feng Junyan 59′, Conca 61′; Yu Hai 27′
After a 2-0 victory in the home leg last weekend, Guizhou Renhe went to Tianhe Stadium knowing that if they scored one, their opponents would need four to deprive them of the CFA Cup. They duly opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and an under-strength Guangzhou side never really looked like recovering to deliver departing hero Conca the perfect send-off after two and a half years of exceptional service.
Yu Hai was the hero of this contest, adding to his brace in the previous leg by leaping over Huang Bowen to powerfully head a Misimović free kick past Zeng Cheng. Guizhou defended solidly for the remaining hour, though the remarkable level of unpunished time-wasting that went on exemplified why Chinese domestic football has such a relatively low level of effective playing time.
With Elkeson, Muriqui, and Zhao Xuri all absent through suspension, Lippi had been forced to shuffle his pack, and turned up a surprise. Instead of playing Conca further forward, callow local Yang Chaosheng was flanked in attack by Gao Lin and Rong Hao, who was making an unexpectedly early return from injury. The inexperienced Cantonese youngster had a couple of good touches early on, but it wasn’t long before his unsuitability for a contest of this level became painfully apparent, and he was mercifully replaced at half time by Feng Junyan.
By that stage Guangzhou could easily have been two behind, with Misimović hitting the post after brushing off Feng Xiaoting worryingly easily ten minutes after the opener. The home side had had their chances too, but with Yang losing confidence by the minute and Gao Lin failing miserably to step up in the absence of his Brazilian counterparts, the game seemed like a lost cause.
However the second half was a different story initially; Gao and Kim Young-Gwon had narrowly missed the target before Feng Junyan finished well when put clear by Conca just before the hour mark. The pint-sized matador added a second two minutes later, pouncing on a Zheng Zhi shot that had rebounded off goalkeeper Zhang Lie. The home crowd went crazy at they remembered all those astounding second half rampages of the early season and began to anticipate one that would top them all.
Misimović hitting the post again two minutes after Conca’s goal helped to temper Evergrande’s attacking verve, but it was primarily the away side’s regular short-term ‘injuries’ and seemingly interminable lingering over set-pieces that suffocated the spark of hope.
That this would be tolerated was made apparent right from the third minute when Zhang Lie spent almost thirty seconds on a goal kick without the referee batting an eyelid; this despite Zeng Cheng seeing yellow for spending about half as much time on one in the home semi against Beijing. Zhang did much the same at every opportunity here and never seemed to receive as much as a talking-to.
Qin Sheng had come on between the goals for Feng Xiaoting, and proceeded to deliver one of his usual displays of clumsy, bone-headed aggression, topped off by sending Muslimović into an ambulance with a busted nose five minutes from time. Far be it from me to question the Italian master, and options were extremely limited, but it’s hard to see why a player who does little but give away free kicks was brought on when the opponents were being given free reign to waste a minute or so on them whenever they wanted.
Conca almost scored directly from a corner with ten minutes left; had Zheng Zhi managed to guide his rebound from Zhang’s reaction save into the net, it may have given the home side the lift they needed to break through the packed Guizhou box for a winner. As it was there was little cutting-edge on display, and despite five minutes of injury-time and 15 shots to Guizhou’s three, the home side were unable to score the extra two required.
In a demonstration of why two-legged cup finals are not a good idea, the triumphant away side (who seemed to have borrowed Evergrande’s incredibly ugly special celebration jackets for the occasion) were largely jeered throughout the official celebrations. Most of the attention of the crowd was focused on Conca, who after picking up the MVP award knelt down to kiss the grass of a pitch that has been such a happy hunting ground for him. A substantial portion of the media abandoned the victors even while veteran Sun Jihai was receiving the trophy to follow Conca on a tearful farewell walk around the track, with his son Benjamin doubling as a wipe for his eyes. It was a touching scene, but I felt for the neglected Guizhou fans, who were stuck off to one side as their team celebrated to a largely empty stand. A one-off game at a neutral venue might hurt revenue but would make for a far better final.
This was the Argentinian’s last appearance at Tianhe before returning to Fluminese, but he can still add to his legend in China when Evergrande take on Al-Ahly of Egypt in the Club World Cup next weekend. Looking forward to 2014, they will face Guizhou again here in the Super Cup before the start of the new season, while the CFA Cup victors are now assured of a spot in the ACL group stage at the expense of Beijing Guoan, who will have to navigate a tricky play-off (likely against Chonburi of Thailand) for their place in the same competition.
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; 33 Rong Hao, 30 Yang Chaosheng, 29 Gao Lin
Subs: 7 Feng Junyan (for 30 Yang Chaosheng 46′), 8 Qin Sheng (for 6 Feng Xiaoting 60′), 34 Hu Weiwei (for 33 Rong Hao 83′)
Guizhou Renhe: 12 Zhang Lie; 3 Zhang Chenglin, 17 Sun Jihai, 4 Salley, 23 Chen Xavier; 7 Nano, 21 Yu Hai, 29 Yang Hao, 10 Misimović, 27 Qu Bo; 9 Muslimović
Subs: 5 Wu Wei (for 29 Yang Hao 64′), 8 Li Chunyu (for 3 Zhang Chenglin 76′), 11 Rafa Jordá (for 9 Muslimović 86′)
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