A Vagner Love hat-trick, including two controversial penalties, put Shandong Luneng in pole position to win the 2014 Chinese FA Cup final after a pulsating first leg in Jinan. While Shandong were certainly worthy of a two goal victory over their defensively fragile opposition, the winning margin came courtesy of two harsh penalty decisions which left Jiangsu players and staff raving at the Australian referee who made them.
CHINESE FA CUP FINAL 1ST LEG
Shandong Luneng 4
Love 33′, 62′,(pen), 70′(pen)
Jiangsu Sainty 2
Ji Xiang 15′
Wu Xi 71′
Ji Xiang’s excellent 15th minute free kick gave the visitors an undeserved lead before Love headed in an equaliser eighteen minutes later. Another header, this time from Junior Urso, put Shandong in the lead eight minutes after the break and Love’s penalties on 62 and 70 minutes, respectively, gave his team a three goal advantage which looked to have put the tie beyond Jiangsu. But the Nanjing based side didn’t give up and Wu Xi pulled a goal back almost immediately after Love netted Shandong’s fourth. This set up a grandstand finish in which both sides threw everything at each other to grab a final goal which would either kill off the tie for Shandong or bring Jiangsu right back into the two-legged contest.
Any fears that this was going to be a cagey affair were quickly put to rest when Luneng came out aggressively and won a series of corners in the opening five minutes. They came to nothing but the pressure on Jiangsu increased and their back five, marshalled by their usually reliable captain Roda Antar, struggled to cope with Shandong’s energetic attack. The home side took advantage of some disorganised defending and created several opportunities in the first quarter of an hour. Unfortunately for the majority of those packed into the Jinan Olympic Sports Centre, they failed to make their dominance pay and were punished by a moment of magic from Sainty right back Ji Xiang. The Jiangsu native curled in an absolutely stunning 25 yard free kick which gave Shandong goalkeeper Wang Dalei no chance and sent the sizable travelling away support into raptures..
Despite falling behind, Shandong’s pressure showed little sign of relenting and it was no surprise when Love equalised in the 33rd minute from a well worked corner. Walter Montillo lifted the ball to Ryan McGowan at the near post and the Australian’s knock on bypassed the Jiangsu’s aerially dominant centre back Eleilson to find Love who had slipped away from his marker, Antar. The close range free header was child’s play for the former CSKA Moscow forward and Shandong were back on level terms going into the break.
The second half started out at a slower pace, but that only lasted eight minutes as Montillo set Zhang Chi free down the right and the fullback levelled an excellent cross into Junior Urso who made no mistake with his glancing header.
Things got worse for Jiangsu less than ten minutes later when Urso headed a Montillo free kick well wide only for the referee to cause confusion by giving the home side a penalty out of the blue. Replays showed that Jiangsu left-back, Ren Hang, had been pulling on McGowan’s shoulder some way behind the point of Urso’s header and the official deemed it a big enough infringement to warrant a spot kick. It would have been a harsh decision had it been who was McGowan going for the ball, but as the incident had absolutely no impact upon Urso’s failed effort, it seemed particularly unfair on the visitors. To add insult to injury, Ren Hang was shown the yellow card and Love strolled (literally) up to the ball from outside the area before dispatching it passed Deng Xiaofei.
Jiangsu’s misery was compounded not long after when Wu Xi slid in on a rampaging Liu Binbin just inside the penalty error and clearly won the ball from his young opponent. Amazingly, the referee again pointed to the spot and Love showed the same level of nonchalance to score his second penalty in less than ten minutes and complete his hat-trick.
Head coach Gao Hongbo protested furiously on the sidelines, but thankfully for both Jiangsu fans and the integrity of the second leg, his side refused to give up. Dangerous Colombian Edison Toloza was introduced for the ineffective Elias in the 72nd minute and less than 60 seconds after he came on Jiangsu had pulled a goal back. Yang Xiaotian fired a powerful but speculative drive straight at Wang Dalei and the former Shanghai Shenhua goalkeeper should have done better than to push the ball straight towards Wu Xi in the middle of the penalty area. Wu beat the slow reacting Zhao Mingjian to the ball before scooping it over Wang and into the net. Wang protested heavily that his international teammate had handled while controlling the ball but the replays were unclear and, even if he had, it was perhaps vindicated by the unjust penalty awarded against him just a few minutes earlier.
The goal sparked a frantic and open final 20 minutes in which Jiangsu displayed an admirable do or die attitude and Shandong tried desperately to regain the three goal lead that would make their trip to Nanjing a formality. Gao Hongbo sent enormous centre back Eleilson to accompany Toloza as a target man upfront and this further opened up Jiangsu’s already shaky back line. The game continued to flit from end to end and the six minutes of added time gave even more room for incident and talking points. Two minutes into the extra period Montillo hit the bar when trying to divert a low Urso cross at full stretch, and a minute later, Shandong looked set to score their fifth of the match when an excellent through ball from substitute Aloisio seemed to have put Urso clean through on goal. However, Ren Hang produced an exceptionally timed last ditch tackle to keep his team in the tie. Another minute later Jiangsu wrongly shouted for a penalty when Toloza hurled himself into the back of Zheng Zheng in the Shandong area and the last touch of the game was an effort on goal from Eleilson. Unfortunately for Jiangsu, it was with his foot not his head and the ball rolled unthreateningly into Wang Dalei’s hands to bring an enthralling encounter to an end.
Shandong will be heavy favourites to lift a record breaking fifth FA Cup and claim the Asian Champion’s League qualifying place that goes with it when the two sides meet in Nanjing on 22nd November. However, Wu Xi’s precious second away goal could still prove decisive as a 2-0 or 3-1 home win could be enough to hand Sainty victory. On the evidence of today’s game, that outcome looks unlikely, but if the defence can stand firmer and the referee performs better, Jiangsu still have an outside chance of taking the trophy and returning to the Champion’s League after a one year absence. Meanwhile, the best the neutral can hope for is that the second leg is every bit as entertaining as this contest was, thus guaranteeing that the 2014 domestic Chinese football season will end on a high.
Shandong Luneng (4-2-3-1): 25 – Wang Dalei: 19 – Zhang Chi, 4 – Ryan McGowan, 6 – Zhao Mingjian, 16 – Zheng Zheng: 23 – Li Wei, 15 – Junio Urso: 13 – Zhang Wenzhao (83 mins: 28 – Hao Junmin), 30 Walter Montillo, 21 Liu Binbin (90 mins: 9 – Han Peng) : 10 Vagner Love (87 mins: 31 – Aloisio)
Jiangsu Sainty (5-4-1): 1 Deng Xiaofei: 24 – Ji Xiang, 3 – Eleilson, 6 – Roda Antar, 2 – Li Ang, 23 – Ren Hang: 28 – Yang Xiaotian, 22 – Wu Xi, 37 – Yang Hao, 20 – Sun Ke (82 mins: 8 – Liu Jianye): 11 – Elias (72 mins: 40 – Edison Toloza)
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