Guangzhou R&F travel to Jinan knowing that a win over Shandong will secure third place and entry into next season’s ACL whilst a loss would really put the pressure on the blue and whites for the final two rounds. Plenty of reason to read on and tune in on Sunday then….
R&F beat Guizhou Renhe 1-0 before the international break thanks to an Abderazzak Hamdallah header whilst over in Shanghai, Shandong and East Asia played out a goalless draw. These results consolidated R&F’s third place and opened up a five point advantage over Shandong and a seven point one over East Asia.
R&F players’ National Service
Abderazzak Hamdallah – Morocco
Aaron Olanare – Nigeria
Cheng Yuelei and Jiang Zhipeng – China
Jang Hyun-Soo and Park Jong-Woo – South Korea
The blue and whites had six players called up to their national squads for last week’s friendly matches but Sven kept the remaining members of the R&F side hard at work as they played last season’s Indian league winners Bengaluru FC and won 3-0. Bengaluru wanted experience of playing against foreign sides ahead of AFC qualifying fixtures but Yuexiushan News worries about the prospects of any side that lets Zhang Yuan score twice against them.
On the spot
After seasons of inability to score from set pieces, other than the rash of penalties R&F were awarded at the start of this season, have the blue and whites finally worked it out? Park Jong-Woo scored direct from a free-kick not long ago, Olanare headed in from a corner against East Asia and Hamdallah did it twice, with one later disallowed, against Guizhou. Whisper it, but the set piece defence isn’t as leaky as it once was either so all that time on the training ground seems to be finally paying off.
Five into four won’t go
Sven has played 4-2-3-1 for the majority of games this season and quickly settled on his best line up in most areas, but the advanced trio behind Hamdallah have proved to be more difficult to predict with Jiang Ning, Lu Lin, Zhang Yuan, Chang Feiya, Wang Xiaolong, Ken Larsen and Aaron Olanare all lining up there at one time or another. September finally saw Sven settle on his best trio though as Jiang, Lu and Olanare were all given a run in the team. Olanare’s place is now under threat though as Jang Hyun-Soo comes back from a successful Asian Games.
Xu Bo deputised well enough in Jang’s absence but the South Korean is a better player so will expect to slot back into the side at centre half. This gives Sven a headache as, assuming all return fit from international duty, one of his other foreign players must be dropped to make way for Jang. Hamdallah’s goals make him almost certain to play and Davi and Park Jong-Woo have formed an effective partnership in central midfield and are aslo unlikely to be dropped. This means bench warming duty is most likely to fall to Olanare although Sven may be reluctant to break up his new found midfield trio. If Olanare stays then Zhu Boajie will benefit as he’ll come in to partner either Davi or Park Jong-Woo in central midfield.
Following in his compatriot Yakubu’s sizeable footsteps, Olanare has made much more of an impact than Ken Larsen did in the first half of the season and whilst he is not the most subtle of players in the CSL, Olanare demonstrated early in his time with the blue and whites that he is one of the stronger. Crucially he also seems more motivated to use his ability than Yakubu who too often failed to show commitment. Yuexiushan News feels the Nigerian will find himself used as an impact sub in Jinan though.
Sunray Staying Up?
Guangdong Sunray Cave beat bottom of the table Yanbian to all but secure their China League 1 status for next season as with three games left they are seven points above the relegation places.
Despite, or because of, a new manager and several new players, Shandong suffered from a poor start to the season and went out of the ACL at the group stage. Cuca has turned things around though and his side haven’t lost since mid-August and are in the semi-finals of the cup. Dangerous in attack and with Cantonese speedster Liu Binbin out wide, Shandong will pose a much greater threat than Guizhou did before the international break. Dai Lin is never far from controversy and with neither Hamdallah, Davi nor Jiang Zhipeng as cool as the proverbial cucumber fireworks could easily break out. If they do, expect Wang Dalei to sprint into the opposition half to get in the referee’s face and put in his two kuai’s worth about something he couldn’t have seen from his goal line (nice observation! – ed). Yuexiushan News clearly not one to hold a grudge after Wang’s antics in the final game of last season.
Do or die…. or wait til next week
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, both sides could well be representing China in continental competition next year. A win for R&F would guarantee them third place but wouldn’t end Shandong’s ACL hopes as they could still qualify via the CFA Cup. Equally, a loss for the Cantonese would still leave them with a two point lead over Shandong and so their destiny would remain in their own hands. The blue and whites would much rather do it themselves than have city rivals Evergrande help them out by beating Shandong on the final day though.
Shandong Luneng v Guangzhou R&F kicks off at 7.30pm on Sunday in Jinan