A ridiculously entertaining 4-4 draw between Changchun Yatai and Tianjin Teda could well be one of the most enthralling matches seen in Chinese football since the introduction of the professional game. This match was a classic, in the truest sense of the term. Both teams have something to build-on: Changchun have the firepower of their big centre-forward and hat-trick hero Martins Moreno; and Tianjin Teda have the colossal centre-back pairing of Zainadine Júnior and Alexsandar Jovanović who managed to score three times between them, even if their defending often left much to be desired.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Changchun Yatai 4
Moreno 27, 41 (pen), 74 (pen)
Júnior 88 (og)
Tianjin Teda 4
Jovanović, 73, 82
A new beginning?
New beginnings are important. Indeed, some people of the constructivist persuasion would even have us believe that one of the key defining features of being human is our ability to demarcate the ebbs and flows of life from one phase to another. For the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, while it is possible to post-hoc rationalise the roots of such new beginnings, it is outrageously difficult to predict when they may occur. One assumes that the players, managers and supporters of both Changchun Yatai and Tianjin Teda alike would have hoped that as they faced comparatively weaker opposition than in their previous two league games of the 2016-2017 season that today might bring about such a new beginning.
In a curious way this might be a new beginning for both Changchun and Tianjin – or to be more precise, there is at-least the potential for a new beginning; alas, unfortunately for both sides, there was still far too much of a continuation with the bad times of olde. At risk of a cliché, the Ying of Changchun’s forward-play was held in an equilibrium with the Yang of Tianjin’s more organised set-pieces. Yet there still remains a cause for optimism on both sides.
A tale of two systems
Changchun adopted a relatively conventional 4-4-1-1 system, with the exciting prospect of Martins Moreno leading the line and Ognjen Ožegović shoe-horned into the ‘hole’ between Tianjin’s defense and midfield. But as the game wore on Moreno and Ožegović appeared happy to productively switch positions. Tianjin opted for a far more fluid 4-2-3-1 system and were quick to push their full-backs up the pitch and thereby reduce the space Changchun had to play in. Surprisingly though, despite Tianjin’s full backs operating in (not literally) acres of space, they were often refused and rarely called upon. Despite this fluidity, however, Tianjin caused most problems from set-pieces.
Changchun lead at half-time 2-1
Changchun’s Moreno was a constant threat both in the air as well as with anything played behind the last line of defenders; he had a goal ruled-out unfairly within the first 20 minutes. Not to be deterred, shortly afterwards in the 27th minute Moreno directed a powerful header from a corner away from the despairing ‘keeper.
One assumed that now Changchun had their noses in front that they would sit back, soak-up the pressure and look to hit Tianjin on the break. This proved not to be the case with Changchun seemingly going out all guns blazing and within less than a minute of the kick-off Moreno hit the post. But Changchun although good going forward, were weak at the back. With embarrassing ease and less than 2 minutes after Changchun broke the deadlock, Tianjin broke and Montero slide home. Tianjin were back level.
With the interval fast approaching, both teams entered into a tacit agreement that it was best to see out the remaining time. Moreno, had other ideas. Once again Moreno was the focal point for the Changchun attack, with the ball eventually being played towards Zhang Xiaofei at the byline who whipped in a cross which was judged – perhaps unfairly – to have accidentally come into contact with a defenders’ hand. Moreno stepped-up to calmly and confidently slot home the resulting penalty in the 41st minute.
A second half of football that was much akin to a basketball match
If the first half was from the neutral’s point of view good value for money, then the second half was outrageous due to the sheer blasé of both Changchun and Tianjin. At times, the second-half shared much in common with a basketball match – perhaps before Stephen Curry’s miraculous ascent – with both teams ready to score at will. Unusually and unpredictably, goals were about to become a very cheap commodity.
Tianjin started off the second half the livelier team and were richly rewarded for their organised set-pieces with a goal in the 60th minute from a corner. Having previously come close just seconds before, the routine was almost telegraphed: the ball was going to be whipped in for Zainadine Júnio. Júnior sought to mix up the routine somewhat by moving a tad further out before the ball was delivered, but it was essentially a similar move. Júnior glanced a header past the ‘keeper.
In the 74th minute a nothing ball was pumped forward to Moreno who although in the penalty box was going away from goal. Júnior, now apparently keen to undo his good work, stuck out a leg and Moreno was only too happy for his trailing leg to make contact and spread-eagle himself on the ground. Moreno was obviously going to be the only man allowed to take the penalty. Tianjin engaged in an element of gamesmanship and tried to delay the kick to put the big man off. Moreno opted to place the ball in the bottom right of the ‘keepers’ goal and although the ‘keeper inched towards the ball, its pace and the glaring sun did just enough to ensure that the ball evaded his grasp. Moreno now had his hat-trick.
One assumed one was watching a comedy when once again Changchun had taken the lead and within less than a couple of minutes, Tianjin had pulled level via a corner, this time via the powerful Alexsandar Jovanović in the 73rd minute. The situation almost reached tragicomedy levels approximately 10 minutes later when once again another Tianjin corner saw Jovanović rise the tallest and this time knock home Tinajin’s fourth in the 82nd minute. If there were questions raised about the keepers’ positioning for Jovanović’s first, then for his second it is fair to say that he was caught in no man’s land. Despair and disgruntled looks started to haunt Changchun’s Development Area Stadium.
The match appeared to be ready to peter out to a Tianjin victory. Changchun’s vocal fans attempted to create some urgency and pressing, but to little avail. In the 88th minute another seemingly nothing ball was punted forward. Fan Xiaodong found himself well outside the penalty area with several defenders left to beat and little to no support. With so few options open, Fan jinxed inside and outside before shooting more in hope than a real expectation that he would be able to beat the ‘keeper from such a distance. Alas, Júnior’s transition from hero to zero was complete when he hopelessly stuck a leg out and the shot took a wicked deflection, wrong-footed the ‘keeper and found its way into the net.
This match was a spectacle of the highest order and a fantastic advert for Chinese football; 4-4 was an entirely unexpected result.
Both Changchun and Tianjin looked good going forward, although it was the Changchun’s forwards who caused problems for Tianjin; and it was Tianjin’s defenders who were the greatest goal-threat to Changchun. If this is to be a new beginning for both Changchun and Tianjin, then there is obvious work that needs doing, with both sides needing to master the art of defending.
Hopefully there are many more such matches to come.