Guangzhou Evergrande will enter the summer break on top of Chinese Super League by a solitary point after the Cantonese side and nearest rivals Beijing Guoan played out a fiercely competitive top of the table clash at the Workers Stadium.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 14
Beijing Guoan 1
Zhang Xizhe 6′
Guangzhou Evergrande 1
Having shot out the blocks and taken an early lead through left winger Zhang Xizhe, Beijing were unable to retain their advantage as Evergrande grew in confidence over the course of the first-half. However, Elkeson’s calm side-footed equaliser would prove the final goal of the game.
While the second half continued to be an end-to-end affair, with Guoan striker Peter Utaka squandering the best of the chances. The late stages, though, would prove to be dominated by the referee who could have shown red to more than one on the Beijing side.
Deprived of core first-team regulars Zhang Linpeng, Zeng Cheng, Kim Young-Gwon and Muriqui for the encounter, Evergrande supporters were realistic of the considerable task that lay ahead for their side in the capital. Guoan themselves, meanwhile, were without Korean Ha Dae-Sung, currently away on international duty.
A lack of organisation in the unfamiliar Evergrande defence aided Guoan in their blistering start, but the pace and directness of striker Joffre Guerron and winger Zhang Chengdong would prove a major threat throughout. Even before Guoan’s sixth minute opener, coming when a clever Zhang Xizhe dummy fooled Mei Fang to open space for a shot, Guoan had threatened as Guerron burst past the helpless Zheng Zhi and fired a shot straight at Li Shuai. The hosts were fully deserving of their opener.
Having managed to limit the damage of Beijing’s early pressure, reigning champions Evergrande began to show some threat themselves, with both Rene Junior and Elkeson flashing headers narrowly wide of the post from set-pieces. Indeed, the Cantonese visitors were comfortably the better side from set pieces throughout.
The building pressure would prove too much for Gregorio Manzano’s side shortly before half-time, with Elkeson levelling the scoring and moving clear at the top of the CSL top-scorer charts with his 12th of the campaign.
Huang Bowen, returning to Gongti once more would prove the inspiration, with his fine through-ball picking out Rong Hao who beat the challenge of Zhou Ting before sliding a pass to the unmarked Brazilian. It was a goal of impressive simplicity, giving Guoan little time to cover the emerging gaps.
Did you know?
Zhang Xizhe has now scored in his past three fixtures against Guangzhou Evergrande at the Workers Stadium.
The second-half would continue with a similar rhythm, with Evergrande slightly on top in the early stages. Guoan would quickly respond, though, with long-balls to the speedy Guerron proving a particularly threatening outlet. To deal with the Ecuadorian’s pace, the visitors had shifted full-back Mei Fang into the centre but the danger remained.
Midfielder Darko Matic almost proved the unlikely match-winner, though, firing a rocket of a long-range shot so close to the upright that it clipped the side-netting on its way through. Li Shuai was also forced into a fine low save from a Pablo Batalla free-kick as Guoan began to move ahead in the game.
Surprisingly, head coach Manzano opted to withdraw Guerron on the hour mark, much to the relief of those in red. Utaka would occasionally offer a similar threat, but much of the danger ended with Guerron’s departure. Evergrande, meanwhile, turned to Italian Alessandro Diamanti to change the course of the game.
Diamanti would prove to be involved in one of the game’s major talking points, but not in the manner envisaged. The Chinese officials had been poor throughout, attracting much derision from both sets of fans, but made clear and important errors in the final twenty minutes of the clash.
Evergrande will feel that it is a miracle that none of their opponents saw red. Zhang Xizhe flew in recklessly on the aforementioned Diamanti in a tackle that would have seen him dismissed on most occasions, Utaka planted his studs into the ankle of Feng Xiaoting and Xu Yunlong caught Zheng Zhi with a raised boot only to then be booked for another challenge. Darko Matic, meanwhile, continued to remonstrate aggressively with the referee having already been shown a yellow card for dissent.
With Guoan also arguing that a flailing elbow from Huang Bowen in the direction of Matic could have prompted a red card, attention post-match has turned to the quality of the officiating. While Zhang’s tackle was undisputedly worthy of sanction, a less lenient referee could easily have produced his red card on more than one occasion.
The league will now break until July 20 and, with Beijing lying just a point behind their Cantonese rivals, the hope must be that the 2014 season will bring about a true CSL title race. Guoan will feel that, with better finishing, they could have claimed a result on Monday night, but the result leaves both sets of fans content with the opportunity to strengthen ahead.
BEIJING GUOAN: Yang Zhi; Zhou Ting, Yu Yang, Xu Yunlong, Zhao Hejing; Darko Matic, Piao Cheng; Zhang Chengdong, Pablo Batalla (Shao Jiayi), Zhang Xizhe; Joffre Guerron (Peter Utaka).
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE: Li Shuai; Mei Fang, Feng Xiaoting, Zheng Zhi, Sun Xiang; Liao Lisheng (Feng Junyan 46′), Rene Junior, Huang Bowen; Rong Hao (Alessandro Diamanti), Gao Lin, Elkeson.