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AFC Champions’ League: Luneng lose again thanks to Kashiwa Reysol stoppage time winner.

An injury time header from Naoki Wako denied Shandong Luneng a precious point in Japan. The defeat leaves Luneng four points adrift of both Kashiwa Reysol and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and staring into the abyss of an early elimination.

ACL GROUP E

Kashiwa Reysol 2
Kosuke Taketomi 23′
Naoki Wako 90+2′

Shandong Luneng 1
Montillo 51′

Having gone into the half time break lucky to only be a Kosuke Taketomi goal down, the hugely understrength Jinan side found themselves level early in the second period when Walter Montillo capitalised on a defensive error to equalise. Cuca’s men greatly improved after the Argentinian’s strike and looked to have done enough to secure a draw until Wako popped up to get on the end of a perfectly flighted ball from second half substitute Cristiano.

Based on their last Champions’ League outing, a 4-1 mauling at home to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, avoiding defeat in Kashiwa looked like a tough task for Luneng. But it was one made even harder by the absence of four key players. Diego Tardelli, Yang Xu, Junior Urso and Du Wei were all missing through a combination of injury and suspension, meaning that Cuca had to field a makeshift team.

With Tardelli and Yang both unavailable, and Aloisio not registered in the Champions’ League squad, the Brazilian coach opted to play winger Wang Hongpo up top rather than out of favour veteran Han Peng. Urso’s injury meant that Li Wei and Zhang Chi formed the somewhat lightweight defensive midfield pairing, while Wang Qiang was brought in to replace Du as Zhao Mingjian’s central defensive partner. With the inexperienced Wang Tong also starting at right back, the team looked set for a very difficult evening.

However, the Chinese side almost got of to a fantastic start when Montillo, the only foreigner in Luneng’s line-up, robbed lackadaisical centre back Daisuke Suzuki in the 4th minute and found himself bearing down on Takanori Sugeno’s goal. Unfortunately, the Argentinian was a little too relaxed himself, taking too long to get his shot off and allowing Sugeno to close down the angle and make a fine save. Had Montillo converted the opportunity the game may have had a very different complexion but Reysol bounced back from their early scare and began dominating proceedings.

Shifting Blame: Li Wei (15) and Wang Qiang (16) try to claim offside during Kashiwa's first goal

Shifting Blame: Li Wei (15) and Wang Qiang (16) try to claim offside during Kashiwa’s first goal

Brazilian striker Leandro had a good opportunity to score and Zhao Mingjian would have put a cross from Kim Chang-soo through his own net had it not been for a fine save from Wang Dalei’s who also managed to block Taketomi’s follow up with his face. Wang was soon called upon to make another close range stop from  Masato Kudo and the seemingly inevitable goal finally came on 23 minutes when Reysol took advantage of some questionable defending.

Wang Qiang charged out to close down Hidekazu Otani near the edge of the penalty area but he was never going to get there and the Reysol captain was able to lay the ball off to Kudo. It looked as though the striker attempted a shot, but his scuffed effort rolled through the space vacated by Wang Qiang and past a slumbering Li Wei to be swept in at the back post by a grateful Taketomi.

Despite taking the lead, the Japanese side didn’t let up and demonstrated some crisp passing moves which came close to unlocking Luneng’s defence on several occasions. Suzuki headed a Wako free kick against the bar and centre back Eduardo also went close with a long range effort.

Look Of Frustration: Liu Binbin wasn't rewarded for a good display down the left wing

Look Of Frustration: Liu Binbin wasn’t rewarded for a good display down the left wing

Shandong’s only first half threats came courtesy of Liu Binbin, who made several dangerous runs down the left wing, and Montillo’s set pieces. Indeed, Zhao Mingjian went close to nicking a goal at the right end when he headed a Montillo free kick just over the bar on the stroke of half time.

Although Reysol controlled the first half and enjoyed 67% of the possession, the back line looked vulnerable when playing out under pressure and clearing their lines. Montillo had almost punished Suzuki for some sloppy play early in the first half and he made no mistake when the defender gifted him another opportunity six minutes into the second.

With Han Peng introduced at the interval in place of Zhang Wenzhao, Wang Hongpo moved out to the right wing and it was his cross which led to Suzuki’s error. It was a poor ball in, but an even poorer clearance which fell straight to Montillo on the edge of the box. The former Santos player gave Sugeno no chance with a rasping finish and the goal changed the momentum of the game.

Wang Dalei was called upon to make another good stop from Kudo a few minutes after the goal, but otherwise Reysol seemed to have lost their rhythm. Hao Junmin was brought on in place of Zhang Chi after 72 minutes in a substitution which signalled an intent to try and win the game, and Luneng almost got a second four minutes later when Liu Binbin once again found some joy down the left. This time, the 21-year-old was able to play a pinpoint cross into Han Peng but the former international striker squandered the opportunity by heading wide when he should have hit the target.

Ecstatic: Reysol players celebrate Wako's winning goal

Ecstatic: Reysol players celebrate Wako’s winning goal

A couple of minutes after Han’s chance, Reysol made a change of their own, bringing on Cristiano in a move which proved to be a masterstroke. The Brazilian looked to be a danger from the moment he came on and would have grabbed a winner of his own in the 90th minute had Wang Dalei not made a good stop from a tight angle. However, he was not to be deterred and two minutes later he spotted Wako in a pocket of space between Zhao Mingjian and Li Wei. The ball was perfectly weighted and the diminutive winger produced an impressive leap head the ball past Wang Dalei.

The defeat will no doubt hurt but, considering all of the enforced changes, Luneng can take some heart from this performance. They were comprehensively outplayed in the first half but didn’t roll over like they did against Jeonbuk, meaning they were in with a chance until the death. The in form Wang Yongpo is particularly deserving of praise having worked his proverbial off as both a makeshift striker and a winger frequently forced to cover for the out of position Wang Tong.

Work Horse: Wang Hongpo covered a lot of ground in Luneng's losing effort

Work Horse: Wang Hongpo covered a lot of ground in Luneng’s losing effort

This loss follows a 3-2 Super League defeat to Liaoning and the pressure is undoubtedly on Cuca. With Jeonbok unsurprisingly easing past Bihn Duong 3-0, qualification for the knock out stages is looking like an increasingly remote possibility. The Champions’ League now takes a three week break after which Reysol travel to Luneng for the return fixture.

Presuming everybody in the group beats the Vietnamese side, defeat will see Shandong eliminated and a draw will leave them needing to go to Korea and win in the final set of group matches. In short, Cuca’s men have to beat Kashiwa to stand a realistic chance of advancing. The good news is that this side did enough in the second half to prove that with Tardelli, Urso, and Yang Xu back in line-up, that is a possibility.

Based in China for five years, Jamie has been exploring tiny little third tier Hubei cities without football teams or decent internet connections, but is now a regular at China League One side Wuhan Zall.

A keen football afficionado, he regularly takes in the Chinese Super League, enjoying matches in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing.

Jamie is also a keen observer of the fortunes of the Chinese National side.

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