A pair of goals from half time substitute Yang Xu were enough for Shandong Luneng to come from 2-1 down and sneak out of Vietnam with a win.
ACL Group E
Bihn Duong 2
Wang Qiang 56′ (o.g)
Shandong Luneng 3
Wang Hongpo 47′
Yang Xu 61′, 81′
Following a scrappy and goalless first half, the game really came alive less than two minutes after the commencement of the second when Wang Hongpo put Luneng in front. However, Ganiyu Oseni capatalised on some lax defending to equalise just a minute later and Wang Qiang headed a cross into his own net to give Bihn Duong the lead on 56 minutes.
A clever flicked header from Yang off of an excellent Walter Montillo free kick levelled the scores just after the hour mark before the 28-year-old once again put his head on the end of a ball from the Argentinian to grab the win nine minutes from time.
Indeed, having also headed the ball down for Wang Hongpo’s opener, it’s fair to say that Yang’s introduction at the interval completely changed the game but Montillo, who played all three crosses leading to the goals, deserves plaudits just as much as Luneng’s defence deserve criticism for a woeful second half performance.
Centre back Dai Lin, who looked solid before the half time interval, was particularly guilty having been directly responsible for both goals being conceded.
Bihn Duong are the first Vietnamese team to participate in the Champions League group stages since 2008 and Luneng understandably went into the game as heavy favourites. However, there was little quality on show during a scrappy first half in which the Vietnamese side just shaded things overall.
Nguyen Trong Hoang gave full back Zheng Zheng a torrid time down the Shandong left and it was his 32nd minute cross which gave Bihn Duong their best chance of the opening period—a looping header from Abbas Cheikh Dieng which was tipped over the bar by Wang Dalei.
Shandong improved as the half progressed and Zheng Zheng forced an excellent save from Esele with a low curling free kick in the 39th minute, while Luneng had another opportunity right on the stroke of half-time when Montillo gave a preview of his upcoming prowess by playing a fine cross into Wang Hongpo who couldn’t keep his header down.
Despite the late flashes of first half promise, it was clear that Cuca needed to change something and he did so at half time when he introduced Yang in place of young winger Liu Binbin. This saw Shandong effectively switch to a 4-4-2 with Yang partnering the largely disappointing debutant Diego Tardelli up front.
The change, which also saw Montillo switch to the wing, paid immediate dividends when the Argentinian’s cross found Yang in acres of space, allowing him to knock the ball down to Wang Hongpo who coolly flicked the ball in off his calf under pressure from Esele.
The Luneng players celebrated, but were punished for failing to get their heads back in the game when they conceded almost immediately from the restart.
Li Wei failed to pick up the run of Ganiyu Oseni from midfield and as a lofted ball was played over to the Nigerian, Dai Lin dashed forward in attempt to play an impossible offside instead of closing down the forward. While holding off the challenge of the late arriving Li Wei, Oseni was able to level and Abbas had an opportunity to put his side in the lead just a minute later when more confusion in the Luneng ranks saw him get a free shot inside the penalty area that he blasted just wide.
In the 55th minute, Dai Lin was again in trouble as Oseni turned him comfortably off of a through ball, leaving the defender no option but to trip the Nigerian on the edge of the box. Le Cong Vinh’s initial free kick was blocked by the wall, but it fell to Le Tan Tai who swung a cross in towards Moses Oloya. It was a little too high for the Ugandan international, but not for Wang Qiang who rose up behind him and nodded a low header past Wang Dalei.
It was unfortunate for the defender, who had actually done well to win the ball, but his over-zealousness put Bihn Duong 2-1 up.
However, once again, a lead didn’t last long and within a few minutes Yang Xu rose up to flick a Montillo free kick into the net with his head.
The game continued at a frantic pace for the next 20 minutes with Luneng pressing for the winner and Bihn Duong looking very dangerous on the counter.
Zhang Wenzhao was introduced for Li Wei in what was an attacking substitution, Tardelli had his best moment of the match when he showed good close control to accelarate into the box before running out of space and Montillo continued to seek out the head of Yang Xu.
Although they were somewhat under the cosh, Bihn Duong continued to look threatening and their best opportunity during this period came when Oseni bullied Dai Lin off of the ball before firing just wide of the post. Eventually, though, Luneng’s pressure paid off and, when the breakthrough came it was, unsurprisingly, courtesy of the Montillo-Yang Xu connection.
This time, the move was started by Wang Hongpo who lifted a neat elevated through ball to Montillo in the area. With Esele bearing down on him, the Argentinian had the presence of mind to flick the ball across to Yang Xu who was able to head in under little pressure.
The goalkeeper went crazy at this defence for yet again affording the Chinese international so much space, but it didn’t matter as Luneng were able to comfortably close out the final ten minutes against a team who had had the wind taken out of their sails.
An away win in the Champions League is not to be sniffed at, regardless of the opposition, but there are a couple of things that will be of concern to Cuca before the arrival of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in Jinan next Tuesday.
The first is the extreme defensive frailties demonstrated by his team which will surely be more severely punished by either Jeonbuk or Japanese outfit Kashiwa Reysol with whom the Korean champions drew 0-0 today.
The second is how to set up the side. They were clearly more effective going forward with Yang Xu partnering Tardelli up front, even though the Brazilian looks some way away from being at one hundred percent. However, should they take that option, they will be short in midfield which may not be manageable against higher level opposition.
Luneng return to Jinan with three points and, at this early stage, currently top group E. Unfortunately, things will only get tougher from here and the side will need to show signs of improvement if they are going to progress to the knock-out stages for the first time since 2005.
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