SIPG FC began their 2016 CSL campaign with a disappointing 1-0 loss to an industrious Henan Jianye side at Hanghai Stadium on Saturday afternoon. In a one-dimensional performance which appeared sluggish and frustrating throughout, the visitors ultimately succumbed a close-range tap in from new Henan signing, Osman Sow – who effortlessly brushed off the challenge of the unusually below-par Wang Shenchao to net at the back post.
Chinese Super League Round 1
Henan Jianye 1
Osman Sow 31′
Shanghai SIPG 0
That SIPG looked tired from the get go was perhaps no great surprise, given their midweek exertions in the Asian Champions League, although the reds’ first half performance suggested that challenging for honours on two fronts this year may be an even tougher act than first anticipated. In a first 45 minutes packed with very little quality from either team, Sven-Göran Eriksonn’s side struggled to get any foothold in the game, and deservedly went into half time trailing their hosts.
Things did improve slightly in the second half, with the visitors pushing higher up the pitch in search of an equaliser, but at every turn were frustrated by a gritty Henan side, captained by the excellent Eddie Gomes. The Danish centre back will be delighted in the way he stifled the usually dominant Elkeson, who looked a shadow of the player who caused so much trouble to the Suwon Bluewings back four in midweek.
SIPG’s greatest opportunity came in the 65th minute as Jean Everard Kouassi – back in the starting lineup for the first time in almost eight months thanks to Asamoah Gyan’s absence through injury – headed low towards the bottom corner from a Darío Conca free kick. However, Henan ‘keeper, Wang Guoming reacted superbly to parry the ball out to safety.
A late rugby tackle from Yang Kuo on a visibly frustrated Elkeson saw the Henan right back sent off for a second yellow card, but by then the contest was all but over. Nonetheless, there was still time for an even later penalty shout as substitute Ryan McGowan bundled over SIPG replacement Lv Wenjun as the winger closed in on goal, although the match officials apparently saw nothing and adjudged the contest to be done with.
Post-game, both Wu Lei and Yu Hai attributed their side’s substandard performance to a certain amount of fatigue within the squad after midweek, as well as lamenting the truly awful state of the playing surface on which the match took place. However, as they both also attested to, the pitch was the same for both sides and the blame can lie only with themselves for the result.
Put in the context of the other weekend results – Guangzhou and Shandong both losing, and Shanghai Greenland Shenhua unconvincing in their home draw to newly promoted Yanbian – the result is not a disastrous one. Nevertheless, this was still an opportunity to lay down the gauntlet to the rest of the CSL that was sadly missed.
Indeed, with last year’s top three currently residing in the bottom six of the table, it is certainly not the time for undue panic, however with the lavish-spending Jiangsu Suning topping the table following their rout of Shandong, the expected challengers for the title will all be looking to set their ships on the right course sooner rather than later so as to avoid being cast adrift early on.
As it happens, the next available opportunity to right the wrongs of the opening weekend comes this Friday evening, as SIPG play host to city rivals Shenhua. Whereas both Shanghai sides failed to impress last weekend, the city derby often exists in a vacuum, with a ferocious atmosphere in the stands laying the foundations for what has regularly been an explosive clash on the pitch. Thus it is futile to make predictions on a highly charged cross-city head-to-head based on one solitary opening weekend performance. What can be said for sure, however, is that a positive result this weekend can act as a platform from which either side can launch their thus far stuttering 2016 CSL campaign.