In preseason articles equating the characteristics of Chinese Super League (CSL) teams to their Premier League counterparts, Jiangsu Suning was compared to the likes of Liverpool and Southampton, and yet after clinching Group H with a controlled 3-0 win over Gamba Osaka, Leicester seems an uncanny match with lackluster league form balanced out by compelling continental dominance.
This was Jiangsu’s fourth consecutive AFC Champions League win and despite ceding possession for large portions of the game to a supposedly seasoned Japanese outfit, the home side hardly ever seemed like faltering. The knockout stages now await for a side that had much to atone for going into 2017 following last year’s disappointment against Jeonbuk FC, a point gleefully made by the stadium announcer at the final whistle.
AFC Champions League Group H
Jiangsu Suning 3
Alex Teixeira 3
Hong Jeong-ho 43
Gamba Osaka 0
If Jiangsu’s shoddy early season form has demonstrated Choi Yong-soo’s lack of an attacking plan B in the absence of the suspended Alex Teixeira, the South Korean’s frustrations were allayed after two minutes when the Brazilian snaffled a slack defensive moment, motored into the box, and finished with a smashed shot that beat Masaaki Higashiguchi for pace and height.
With over a month having passed since Teixeira’s last home performance and the frustration of sitting bottom the CSL evident around the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre, the crowd geed and hollered the Brazilian’s name like the return of some prophetic son. The adulation gained further traction less than 10 minutes later when the former Shakhtar player supplied Ramires who made no mistake from six yards out.
The forward refused to be felled by a series of challenges on the edge of the area, like some stocky stubborn tree swaying between ill-aimed axe swings, before chipping a hopeful ball towards his compatriot. Ramires slotted himself between goalkeeping hesitancy and defensive confusion with resounding opportunism and dinked the ball over Higashiguchi.
The pair of goals thrust the emphasis onto the away side and Jiangsu seemed comfortable falling into a resilient shape, essentially a back five guarded by Liu Jianyi and Ramires, and allowing the Osaka side to spend the remainder of the first 45 minutes ambling around their half looking for openings.
Choi’s side provided little affront on the flanks, almost arrogantly inviting the Japanese side to cross from distance. However, the moment Yosuke Ideguchi or Yasuhito Endo tried to control central areas and thread passes between the lines, they were squeezed out by Jiangsu’s midfield enforcers.
With the exception of Jin Izumisawa whose blur of red boots on the left flank posed the odd question, Jiangsu seemingly nullified their opponents’ intent to use guile and precision. The group leaders showed a blunter way of doing things when Hong Jeong-ho headed home a floated free kick minutes before the interval. Again, Teixeira was the provider.
Having squandered a couple of easier headers earlier in the half, the South Korean will have been pleased by his effort, though truthfully his defensive contributions, particularly in the second period when the central back coolly cleared ball after ball away from danger, along with Zhou Yun and Li Ang.
Osaka ditched their patience in the second half looking for the tall frame of Shun Nagasawa with increased haste and asking Ryo Hatsuke to make probing sides on the right hand side. Jiangsu never seemed like conceding what would have been a second goal of the group stage and offered counter attacking potential with Ji Xiang, Teixera’s forward partner for the evening, providing something akin to smart hold up play for the first time this season.
Choi gave fans an added sweetener in the final 20 minutes as Roger Martinez was given a run around to sharpen his match fitness following his recovery from a thigh strain. The substitution saw Jiangsu field the full allotment of their foreign players for only the second time this season, however the Colombian will be glad his cameo didn’t take place in more pressured circumstances; his first touch seemed amiss and he headed a relatively simple chance straight into the arms of Higashiguchi from six yards out.
The buoyant mood in the stadium was reflected in the generosity with which Teixeira offered free kick duties to first Li and later Hong, such was the assured nature of this second group win over 2008 champions.
If the first match between the teams was a smash and grab effort with Ramires’ moment of class making the difference, this was a meticulous, drawn out type of theft and the home fans will certainly be hoping Choi’s team will carry the focus and execution into their upcoming league game against Henan.