It’s been two weeks since our last update from the red side of Guangzhou, an eventful fortnight in which the club has taken major strides towards a fourth straight title but been rocked by the death of club doctor Liu Shulai.
The former doctor of the China national team, Liu joined Evergrande’s backroom staff upon the company’s takeover of the club in 2010 and has been an ever present figure in the background throughout the side’s rise to the top of the Chinese game.
Liu tragically passed away the day after the dramatic 4-3 derby success over neighbours Guangzhou R&F last weekend, putting a major dampener on what was a crucial success for Marcello Lippi side’s title challenge. The entire playing and coaching staff paid tribute to their former colleague before this weekend’s home tie against Hangzhou Greentown, which resulted in a four-goal victory.
At such times, football can often seem an irrelevance but the season continues and, with three games remaining, Evergrande currently lie six points clear of closest rivals Beijing Guoan.
Dramatic derby success
As ‘s Guangzhou R&F correspondent Donald Ross reported last week, Evergrande were pushed to their limits by their neighbours in last week’s derby fixture, claiming a second consecutive 90th minute winner courtesy of a stunning effort from Brazilian Rene Junior.
It should have been so much easier for the visitors, having taken a 3-0 lead into half-time through goals from Alberto Gilardino and Elkeson, twice. However, the defensive frailties and inability to control games from midfield that have been so prevelent this year re-emerged as R&F struck back emphatically in the second half.
To make matters worse, two of the goals were scored by former Evergrande players Jiang Ning and Lu Lin. Evergrande, though, have developed a habit of scoring crucial late goals this season and Rene’s fine strike ranks top among them, stunning the Yuexiushan just as it appeared the title race was taking a major swing in the direction of Beijing.
Once more, though, R&F proved less than hospitable neighbours in a derby clash that is starting to become fiercely contested on and off the pitch.
Record-breaking Elkeson sees off Hangzhou
Brazilian forward Elkeson scored a second consecutive brace this weekend as Evergrande overcame visitors Hangzhou 4-0 at the Tianhe Stadium, marking his 50th league goal for the club but more importantly his 26th of a marvellous CSL campaign.
That tally takes the former Botafogo star level with 2006 top-scorer Li Jinyu for the highest number of goals scored in a single Super League campaign, with three matches remaining in which he can attempt to set a new mark. Elkeson is also the only player in CSL history to have twice passed the 20-goal mark, doing so in his first two years in China.
As impressive as all that may be, more important was to claim a further three points—an eighth successive league win—that maintains the gap of six points to rivals Guoan. Evergrande opened the scoring through Yu Hanchao, who is beginning to settle well in the side, before an Elkeson double early in the second-half extended the lead.
The second of the Brazilian’s two goals also saw Hangzhou defender Wu Wei see red for a trip when the last defensive man. The rout was confirmed late on when Italian Alessandro Diamanti added his name to the scoresheet.
Given the form of Rene, now being used in a midfield trio with Zheng Zhi and Huang Bowen, it is Diamanti who has recently been regularly confined to a role from the substitute’s bench. For now, there have been no rumblings of discontent but it is perhaps a situation to watch in the off-season given the form of the side’s two Brazilians, outshining their illustrious Italian colleagues.
The tie was understandably overshadowed by the death of Liu, with Elkeson dedicating the victory to the former club doctor in his post-game interviews. Nine Chinese players now depart for international fixtures against Thailand and Paraguay in the next 10 days before the final slog against Guizhou, Beijing and Shandong.
Four points from three games is now the target, regardless of the result against their nearest challengers. Beijing, it should be noted, are also on a five game winning streak that has kept them in touch to this point in spite of Evergrande’s run of success.
The Cantonese side are now understandably confident of a fourth title, but it has been a title race to savour whatever the outcome.
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