After securing an opening day victory for the first time since the 2011 season, Hangzhou Greentown headed to Hubei to face Shijiazhuang Ever Bright on Sunday. How would they fare against a team looking to bounce back from a home defeat in round one?
Following an encouraging performance against Changchun last week, manager Myung Bo-Hong stuck with an unchanged line up against an Ever Bright side who went for their familiar 5-3-2 formation, looking to frustrate Greentown. Commended last week for their policy of backing youth, the average age of the Hangzhou starting XI today was 26.2. This figure having being distorted by the additions of experienced heads such as 36 year old Tim Cahill, Greentown should be praised for their willingness to trust in players developed at the club.
From the opening minutes, it was clear the Hangzhou team were bringing a lot of confidence into this game, seeing a lot of the ball and working hard to get it back when lost. In response, Shijiazhuang were happy to play the ball around their five centre backs and rarely posed an attacking threat to the goal of Zhang Lei.
New manager, Bo-Hong is obviously trying to instil a good footballing philosophy on the side and this was apparent in their desire to play the ball out of defence, which Greentown did well. This good service from the back allowed Hangzhou to have a larger share of midfield possession, with Denilson Gambionetta in particular, seeing a lot of the ball on the right.
Despite all of Hangzhou’s hard work in the middle of the park, chances were hard to come by, with numerous attempts at through balls cut out and with Gambionetta playing increasingly as a right winger, Cahill became further isolated up front and starved of service for much of the game.
With a number of poor balls either going long, or being cut out by the deep Shijiazhuang defence, chances were few and far between until the 31st minute. A left footed, Gambionetta free kick from the right saw Cahill beat the onrushing goalkeeper to the ball but head over the bar from five yards out. It was a chance most would have backed Cahill to bury.
Despite this scare, the impressive Hubei crowd roared the home team on but it was Greentown who again came close to taking the lead. A quick throw from Cahill, allowed Gambionetta room to cross into the box for Chen Po-Liang to run in from deep and volley against the post from close range. A well worked chance, but again, it should’ve hit the back of the net.
The post still rattling, Ever Bright broke into the Hangzhou half and strong hold up play by Jacob Mulenga, teed up Mao Jianqing to fire into the bottom left hand corner. A sucker punch for Greentown heading into the break.
Déjà vu for Greentown in exasperating second half
The second half followed the same frustrating pattern as the first. Shijiazhuang were reluctant to venture forward for more than rare counter attacks and Hangzhou lacked a killer instinct in the final third. This continued until the 68th minute, when the introduction of an energetic Davy Claude Angan, gave Greentown a different dynamic.
Despite the best efforts of Angan, Hangzhou only fashioned one clear cut chance in the final 20 minutes. A great move involving mullet sporting substitute Zhuang Jiajie, saw Cahill spring the offside trap of an unusually high Ever Bright back line. One on one with the keeper, Cahill was unable to round his man and the goal did well to snatch the ball from his feet.
An impressive Jacob Mulenga, the furthest player forward for Shijazhuang, meant the Greentown back four could never really push up and make their dominance pay and upon the final whistle, Hangzhou were left to rue what might have been. Ultimately, Greentown would return home empty handed despite undoubtedly deserving a point from this match, if not quite doing enough to deserve all three.
Post-match interview tells all
‘We were the better team, they had one chance and they scored’, a clearly frustrated Tim Cahill stated in his post-match interview when asked what he thought of today’s game, surely echoing the thoughts of numerous Greentown fans.
When asked about the future of Greentown’s young team, Cahill responded in a more positive fashion. Praising the youthful team in the face of ‘five centre backs’, Cahill’s assessment of the youth here, along with taking to Twitter to describe the squad as a ‘young team with big hearts’ his words are a result of having genuine confidence that Hangzhou’s group of talented players around the twenty two age mark can have a real impact in 2016.
With the much publicised high spending has created a buzz around the start of the 2016 CSL season and alerted the world to the financial muscle of the league, the value of teams such as a Hangzhou putting faith in youth should not be underestimated. With President Xi’s grand plan for Chinese football in motion, it is the development of Chinese talent that will have the greater long term effect on not only the league but also the national team.
China should look at how the conscious decision of the MLS to develop within their means and push American talent has led to a USA team and a league that has never been stronger thanks to the creation of a credible pool of talent, coupled with the addition of a number of foreign stars. With the Chinese national team’s much documented troubles and inability to qualify for a world cup since 2002, it is the promotion of youth, rather than Jackson Martinez sized transfers that will ultimately allow China to reach their full potential.
Putting your faith in youth, of course, will lead to some inconsistent results and disappointments, which Greentown discovered on Sunday. Despite the loss, Hangzhou played well. With a blend of the experience of players such as Cahill and solid Korean defender Oh Beom-Seok and youth such as centre back Zhao Yuhao and winger Luo Jing, the Greentown faithful have many reasons to be positive heading into the international break and for the season ahead. The cutting edge needed to capitalise on their strong play will come in time and Greentown should not be afraid to stick to with these young players.
Round three of the CSL sees Hangzhou host a strong Shandong team with an in-form Diego Tardelli leading the line. None will be keener than this Greentown squad to capitalise on their strong performances in their opening two games and not to let Sunday’s disappointment affect them. This squad has the potential to be much more than relegation candidates in 2016 and while facing Shandong will be a challenge, this will be the first test of this Greentown squad against a CSL title contender. Can the boys in green step up?