Guangzhou Evergrande 4 – 1 Harbin Yiteng
Chinese Super League Round 2
Rene Junior 44′, Gao Lin 70′, Huang Bowen 81′, Alessandro Diamanti 87′; Han Deming 45′
They kept level with the champions for well over an hour, but going a goal and man down in the space of two minutes was too much for CSL new boys Harbin Yiteng. Two more were conceded for a 4-1 loss, and the gap could well have been wider.
It was rather cruel for Harbin to be handed back to back away fixtures to the league’s top two teams as their welcome to the big boys’ club. Yet they almost came away from Jinan with a point last weekend and were in with a shout with one here too until some controversial refereeing dashed their resolve.
Their luck may not have held out as long against a stronger starting eleven than Evergrande fielded here. Captain Zheng Zhi and first choice centre-back Kim Young-Gwon were rested from the squad altogether, while Sun Xiang and Diamanti came on later from the bench.
Mei Feng impressed at right back, as did a more restrained Zhang Linpeng in the centre; they swapped for the second half but I felt the earlier set-up worked better. Zhao Xuri was enthusiastic in his first start of the season alongside the again excellent Huang Bowen in midfield.
Evergrande had most of the play, but despite their frontline’s numerous efforts throughout the first half it was midfield anchor Rene who opened the scoring for the second week running. Goalkeeper Han Fangteng sloppily allowed Huang Bowen’s 44th minute direct free kick to bounce off his chest and the new arrival was quickest to the rebound.
Apparently it isn’t actually statistically true that a football team is most vulnerable just after scoring. Harbin’s soft equalizer a minute after Rene’s goal indicates that bald statistics don’t quite capture the nuances of human psychology in team sports.
In the relief of putting his team ahead just before half time, the goalscorer gave away possession in the middle of the field. Harbin broke with ease, Dori slipping the ball through for Han Deming to finish with class; it was one of only two shots on target they had all evening.
Sun replaced Rong on the left at the break but despite dominating it wasn’t until after Diamanti came on (surprisingly for the still sprightly Rene) that Evergrande were able to make their attacks count. His first touch was a rocket that forced a great save from the keeper, and he was involved in his team’s second twenty minutes from time, setting up Zhang’s cross that captain-for-the-day Gao Lin finished with an acrobatic volley and celebrated with bare-chested gusto.
Right after this goal, Harbin were dealt a hammer blow when forward Dori, one of their only two starting foreign players, was sent off for a second yellow after handling a long through ball from defence. You could sympathise with the player’s dumbstruck misbelief; it was a harsh decision, made worse by the fact that his first booking had been received for what appeared to be mild dissent.
Guangzhou’s on-field Italian got his first CSL goal in the 87th minute, with a sizzling free kick almost as breathtaking as his one against Yokohoma last Tuesday, but prior to that Huang Bowen had fired forcefully home from Elkeson’s graceful flick-on amidst a flurry of attacks from the home side.
Neither of the two promoted sides look from their Tianhe showings like doing a Wuhan and utterly collapsing this season, but it’s early days and a lot depends on how much self-belief is chipped away during these opening weeks. Evergrande meanwhile have the ACL visit of Jeonbuk Motors this Tuesday to look forward to.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 33 Rong Hao, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 3 Mei Fang; 8 Rene Junior, 37 Zhao Xuri, 16 Huang Bowen; 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 32 Sun Xiang (for 11 Muriqui 73’), 15 Diamanti (for 8 Rene Junior 58’), 2 Liao Lisheng (for 11 Muriqui 83’)
Harbin Yiteng: 29 Han Fangteng； 17 Xu Dong, 16 Wang Dalong, 14 Shao Shuai, 27 Li Jian; 5 Liu Xiaolong, 6 Han Xu, 8 Adam Hughes, 7 Li Jiahe; 20 Han Deming, 10 Dori
Subs: 21 Bu Xin (for 27 Li Jian 65’), 33 Rodrigo Paulista (for 5 Liu Xiaolong 65’), 9 Li Xin (for 20 Han Deming 72’)