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SIPG flying as CSL hits international “break”

Shanghai SIPG

SIPG thrashes Liaoning, goes five-for-five in brutal two-week series of matches.

Eight men in


Fixture pile-up on aisle three: with Saturday night’s match against Liaoning, SIPG finished a stretch of five games in thirteen days, all but one of them a key match-up: at Shenhua on May 20th, Jiangsu in the ACL on the 23rd, Guo’an on the 27th, at Jiangsu in the ACL again on the 30th and the June 3 Liaoning tie.

Here’s to Hulk, Wu Lei, Oscar, Fu Huan, He Guan, Shi Ke, Wang Shenchao and Yan Junling, who started all five matches — Hulk the last two with a fractured hand — and led SIPG to wins in all five. During the stretch, SIPG scored 14 goals, advanced to the quarterfinals of the ACL, got the Jiangsu coach fired and, with Guangzhou Evergrande, separated themselves on the table from the rest of the CSL.

Shanghai comes out flat against Liaoning

The frenzy of activity caught up with SIPG Saturday night at a windy, cool (!) Shanghai Stadium in the first 20 minutes against Liaoning. In what was probably their worst extended stretch of the season, the Red Eagles looking lifeless, toothless (beakless?) and gave away the ball repeatedly.

The ship righted by about the 25th minute. Oscar, who is perhaps not the best finisher around, scuffed an easy chance, Hulk hit the side of the net with a rocket from 18 yards and a Wu Lei goal was called back correctly (it most be noted because this was a CSL referee) for offside, and Lin Chuangyi hit the post from outside the area in the 45th minute.

Still, SIPG, which knew Guangzhou Evergrande had hammered Yanbian in Jilin earlier in the day, went into halftime with a scoreless draw on the board. André Villas-Boas is not known as a screamer, but one imagines that he had some choice locker-room words for his boys.

Four second-half goals for SIPG right the ship

Whatever he did, SIPG came out in the second half looking like their old selves and created a truckload of second half chances.

Shortly after play resumed, Wu Lei took a pass from Oscar and walked in on goal all alone. But he botched the chance. Shortly after that, Hulk dribbled in on goal with only one defender to beat. His reward was a cynical defender sweeping his legs out from under him and an egregious no call from referee Ai Kun.

Finally, in the 70th minute, Hulk grabbed a loose ball at midfield, dribbled one-on-five halfway into the area and chipped the ball into the upper right corner of the net against outclassed Liaoning keeper Shi Xiaotan. It’s the kind of goal that separates good players from great players.

Ten minutes later, Hulk took an Oscar pass 10 yards from goal and got dragged down again, this time by Liaoning’s Wang Hao, who got all Hulk, no ball. Not even Ai Kun could miss this one: Wang got a yellow, his second, and Hulk easily converted the penalty.

With Liaoning down to ten men, that essentially wrapped up the match, but there was more to come: a classy Wu Lei header for SIPG’s third goal, a world-class free kick for a goal from distance by Liaoning’s Assai Lukimya-Mullongoti, the Congolese international, and finally a gorgeous, goal-line stoppage time pass from SIPG’s Fu Huan to give Lu Wenjun a sliding tap-in and make the final 4-1.

SIPG’s U23 player was forward Wei Shihao. This time the kid went 59 minutes and, for the first time this year, didn’t contribute much. Liaoning’s U23 was Sun Zhaoliang, who only played 37 minutes. “Disgraceful,” Villas-Boas did not say.

International break? Not so much

CSL clubs get two weeks off starting on Monday, but some of the SIPG iron-men will get no rest; they’ll join the Chinese national team as it plays a friendly against the Philippines and then a World Cup qualifying match in Malaysia against Syria. It’ll be interesting to see who national team coach Marcello Lippi selects, given his long-standing ties to Guangzhou Evergrande, which also just played five matches in two weeks.

From SIPG, Yan Junling, Wu Lei, Wang Shenchao, Fu Huan, Shi Ke, Yu Hai and (if he’s not hurt) Cai Huikang are all possibles; from Guangzhou, it’s essentially their entire team, including several reserves, who may be lashed to the mast of the sinking Chinese national team ship.

(By the way, if the CFA is so concerned about developing players, why do they allow Guangzhou to stockpile so much talent? Wouldn’t most of the GZ bench be better off, developmentally speaking, starting for other CSL teams?)

Tite, the Brazilian national team head coach, will also have a say in how much the Guangzhou and Shanghai stars get rested, or not: Paulinho, Hulk and Oscar may or may not travel to Melbourne, Australia for Brazilian friendlies against Argentina and Australia.

SIPG mid-field standout Ahmedov is the captain of the Uzbeki team and he’ll be in Tashkent for a friendly against Thailand and then in Tehran for a hugely important World Cup qualifying match against Iran. A win for the Islamic Republic will clinch a World Cup spot for them; meanwhile, Uzbekistan is in a dogfight with South Korea for the second qualifying spot in the group. The two are separated by one point with three matches remaining, including one against each other in September in Tashkent.

Next up in the ACL, CSL, FA Cup for SIPG

The ACL now takes a protracted break, not resuming until late August, but the quarter- and semi-final draw is this Tuesday. SIPG will end up matched up against Guangzhou Evergrande or one of the two Japanese sides remaining, Kawasaki Frontale or Urawa Red Diamonds.

When the break ends, SIPG will hit the road in the CSL against Guangzhou R&F, then travel mid-week to Suzhou for an FA Cup match against Dongwu, then head back home for a CSL match against relegation-threatened Henan Jianye.

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

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