Shandong Luneng delivered a defiant repost to their early season critics on Tuesday night with a convincing 3-1 away victory over J.League side Cerezo Osaka, in a game that will ease the mounting pressure on manager Cuca and his team.
AFC Champions League Round 2
Cerezo Osaka 1
Shandong Luneng 3
Aloisio 5′, Vagner Love 27′ 56′
Following two lacklustre showings in games in which they were expected to exert their new found strength, Shandong fans were cautious heading into what appeared a difficult away trip to Japan.
An early goal from new signing Aloisio, though, quickly settled any nerves as the Jinan side executed their counterattack plan, with Vagner Love adding a second midway through the first half.
Love, who was guilty of subsequently squandering two guilt-edged chances then put the game beyond doubt early in the second half with a similar spin and shot, this time off his left-foot.
With the game in the bag, Shandong eased off in the final minutes, allowing substitute Yoichiro Kakitani to get himself on the scoresheet for the hosts. His goal, though, was ultimately in vein with just a few minutes remaining on the clock.
The result was a triumph for manager Cuca and his bold selections on the night, calling out-of-favour pair Cui Peng and Zhao Mingjian into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Both impressed, with the latter a useful attacking outlet from right-back.
Playing a deep defensive line, with Cui and Jin Jingdao patrolling the space in front of the centre-backs, Shandong forced their opponents into wide areas. While dominant in terms of possession, Cerezo created very little overall, while centre-backs Du Wei and Dai Lin dealt comfortably with most balls into the box.
At the other end, Shandong used the power and skill of both Aloisio and Love to push back the Cerezo centre-backs to great effect. The latter grabbed two well taken goals, while Aloisio was voted the game’s official man of the match.
Cuca and his side have proven that they can be very effective in dismantling a side willing to attack them and leave opportunities at the back.
The challenge for Shandong now, though, is to prove that they can break down a team that sets out to defend throughout, having struggled against both Buriram United and Harbin Yiteng in their opening games of the campaign.
They have plentiful talent and will now have confidence to match, but still have some points to prove in the coming weeks. Tuesday’s result, though, will go a long way to relieving any early pressure on Cuca’s shoulders.
CEREZO OSAKA: Kim Jin-Hyeon; Sakemoto, Kacar, Yamashita, Maruhashi; Hasegawa, Yamaguchi, Ogihara (Kusukami 78’), Minamino (Kakitani 46’); Sugimoto, Forlan (Nichols 60’).
SHANDONG LUNENG: Wang Dalei; Zhao Mingjian, Du Wei, Dai Lin, Zheng Zheng; Jin Jingdao, Cui Peng, Wang Yongpo (Hao Junmin 90′), Walter Montillo (Yang Xu 89′); Vagner Love, Aloisio (Wu Xinghan 87′).
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