CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 1
Shandong Luneng 1
Junior Urso 89′
Harbin Yiteng 0
It was not meant to be a difficult tie, yet expected title challengers Shandong Luneng were forced to wait until the final minute to secure victory over 10-man Harbin Yiteng in their season opener.
A deflected long-range effort from Junior Urso, perhaps Luneng’s only stand-out player on the night, secured success in the final minute. However, it was the newly promoted visitors who leave with their reputation enhanced.
Indeed, given the relative budgets and reputation of the two sides, pre-match talk had been of just how many Shandong would win by rather than the result itself.
By the end of the first-half, though, such talk was already beginning to look rather foolish as Harbin limited their hosts to just infrequent forays into the penalty area. At the other end, meanwhile, there were signs that the North-East side’s foreign forwards could trouble others this season.
After the break, though, Shandong began to exert real pressure on their opponents and, in the 50th minute, a poor clearance header from a corner gave right-back Wang Tong a shooting opportunity. The China Under-23 international, though, could not keep his well-struck effort down.
Shandong continued pushing, but a mixture of midfield mistakes and poor finishing limited their chances to a scuffed Vagner Love effort and Montillo from range. With just 20 minutes left, meanwhile, Wang Dalei was forced into a fine save to deny Harbin what would have been a shock lead from a Dori header. The offside flag, though, was raised.
As concerns began to rise, Shandong made second half changes in an attempt to change the scoreline and substitute Yang Xu almost came good immediately with a back-post effort into the side netting.
The China international was then guilty of a poor miss after good work from Zheng Zheng and Zhang Wenzhao left him with a chance in the centre of the box. Some excellent defending, though, saw the chance deflect wide.
With five minutes left, the previously booked Li Xudong saw his marching orders for a blatant pull-back on Brazilian forward Aloisio as he threatened to break through on goal, leaving his side to see out the game a man short.
Just a couple of minutes later, though, Shandong were ahead after erratic goalkeeper Han Fangteng’s weak punch was fired back at goal by Urso. The midfielder had been the hosts’ driving force all game and, while Harbin may not have deserved defeat, his personal reward had been well earned. Courtesy of a deflection, Shandong were ahead and set for three points.
Harbin can take great credit from their first CSL outing ahead of an even more challenging trip south to face champions Guangzhou Evergrande next week. For Shandong, though, it is evident that their is still much work to be done if they are to achieve their aim of toppling the Cantonese side this season.
It was a valuable win for Cuca and his team, but one that has only added to the early pressure created by a poor outing in the AFC Champions League. A lot of money has been spent, but the pretenders to Evergrande’s throne have thus far shone little to cause concern for their title rivals.
Shandong Luneng: 25-Wang Dalei；11-Wang Tong、3-Du Wei、35-Dai Lin、16-Zheng Zheng；15-Junior Urso、33-Jin Jingdao；17-Wu Xinghan (75′ 13-Zhang Wenzhao)、30-Montillo (70′ 31-Aloiso)、21-Liu Binbin；10-Vagner Love.
Harbin Yiteng: 29-Han Fangteng；17-Xu Dong、16-Wang Dalong、25-Li Xudong、27-Li Jian；23-Ricardo、8-Adam Hughes；5-Liu Xiaolong (89′ 14-Shao Shuai)、33-Rodrigo、7-Li Jiahe (11-Lv Yongdi)；10-Dori (85′ 6-Han Xu).