Shao Jiayi came on for Beijing Guoan in the 86th minute yesterday and with his first kick of the match, a Guoan free kick, scored the match’s only goal. The victory means that the title will remain up for grabs until the final day of the season.
There was a lot of hype surrounding yesterday’s match as its been a number of years since the Chinese Super League has had a serious title race so late in the season. All Guangzhou Evergrande needed was a single point to secure their fourth straight league title and while some of the battles with Beijing over the last four years have been epic, the Beijingers had never previously left Tianhe victorious.
The first half was a guarded affair, with the sides splitting possession and neither creating many chances, though a slight edge to Evergrande. Rene Junior provided the half’s greatest threat late on when his shot hit the crossbar. The Japanese referee was quick to go to his pocket in a very physical half, handing out a number of yellow cards, a trend that would continue into the second half.
Indeed it was the referee’s tendency to provide cards that led to a key moment in the match. Just six minutes into the second half, an Evergrande corner led to a quick Guoan counter attack, but Sun Xiang’s holding of Pablo Batalla prevented Guoan from attacking. Sun was shown his second yellow and then red, giving Guoan almost 40 minutes with a man advantage.
Knowing that a draw wasn’t enough, Manzano threw everything he had at Evergrande, taking off a defender and putting on midfielder Chen Zhizhao. However, Guoan couldn’t find a way through the Evergrande defense until a foul on Darko Matic led to the fateful free kick. When Shao came on to take the free kick, Guoan fans had shades of last week in their mind, Shao a late substitute tantalizing them with a beautiful free kick that the keeper was just able to keep out. This time it was different, Shao’s effort was perfectly placed and while Zeng Cheng got a hand on it, he couldn’t keep it out. The Beijingers almost added a second on a Dejan Damjanovic header that Zeng just barely got to.
The result denies Evergrande the chance to celebrate their fourth straight title victory in front of their home fans and leaves Guoan wit ha glimmer of hope at capturing the title themselves. It all comes down to next weekend and the 2014 season’s final day.