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SIPG outclassed by third division Suzhou, but win anyway

Ho hum. Just another 16-15 FA Cup yawner. How many of those have you seen, am I right?

SIPG survives by the skin of their teeth

There is going to be frustration if you’re one of the richest teams in Asia and you get outplayed by a third division club in your domestic cup, and that’s what happened to Shanghai SIPG Wednesday night.

In the narrowest possible escape, the Red Eagles got a 94th minute equalizer, survived two penalty kicks that would have meant elimination and then went on to get a 15-14 shootout win over Suzhou Dongwu.

It was, to say the least, not an impressive night for SIPG, and coming off the fiasco against Guangzhou R&F over the weekend, SIPG fans are going to need an indication ASAP that AVB can right this ship. God knows he’s got a chance to do it: Shanghai’s next four matches are a tour of CSL bottom feeders: Henan at home, then Jiangsu, Changchun and Yanbian on the road.

Suzhou did everything they needed to do

It was an impressive night for Suzhou.

They came out on their heels, perhaps a bit intimidated, even though Shanghai, prohibited by tournament rules from playing any of it’s foreigners against the third division side, only started five regulars. After about 20 minutes it seemed to sink in with Dongwu that they could play with these guys, and from that point on, they looked every bit SIPG’s equal.

Or SIPG’s superior. Suzhou were clearly the more motivated side. SIPG stood around a lot and watched Suzhou beat them to most of the 50-50 balls and launch several dangerous looking counterattacks, one of which ended up in the net as the first half wound down with Zhang Jieqi and Chi Xingchen making SIPG defender Zhang Wei look foolish. The goal was Chi’s.

Meanwhile, Wu Lei was giving an object lesson in why so many people have mixed feelings about him. He took a gorgeous tenth minute pass from Wei Shihao and knocked it over the crossbar. In the 55th minute, a loose ball in the box fell fortuitously onto Wu’s right foot at the top of the box and he missed a clear chance. Most egregiously, in the 66th minute, Wu had a simple, tap-in header for the tying goal and just simply botched it.

After that miss, the air seemed to go out of SIPG, and not even a second yellow card to Suzhou’s Shen Hao (a brutally stupid call after Shen whiffed completely on a tackle) and subsequent reduction of Suzhou to ten men seemed to help SIPG. The Shanghai offense devolved into long passes into the top of the box and a prayer the ball would bounce the right way.

Wu saves the day

But then, Wu stepped up. In the 94th minute — five minutes of extra time were more than fairly awarded after some of the more theatrical time-wasting you’ll see — Wu took a volley on a ball that was pinballing around the top of the box and struck it with such perfection — an absolute smash into the far reaches of the upper left hand corner — that “world class” barely begins to describe it.

It was on to the shootout.

Shootout madness

SIPG shot first and both sides made their first three, but then SIPG’s Li Shenglong and Shi Ke both took weak kicks, the first easily saved and the second missing wide.

Twice, then, Suzhou essentially had the match on their foot. First, Chi Xingchen beat SIPG keeper Yan Junling cleanly, but the ball miraculously struck the right post and came straight out. Then Gou Junchen missed wide.

That put the match into sudden death penalty kicks and no one wanted to die. Each side made their next ten in a row. Li and Shi and Chi and Gou, who missed in the first go-round, nailed their second chances. Both keepers calmly scored against their opposite number, and Lu Wenjun, who went first, got both of his. (For Lu, this represented a nice grace note after an evening in which he substituted for Hulk as SIPG’s free kick taker and was utterly ineffective.)

Finally, with the two sides knotted at 14 goals apiece in the penalty kick phase, SIPG’s He Guan went upper right for the second straight time, and for the second straight time, it went in. Suzhou’s Xiao Kun also decided to go with what had worked before, driving one chest high up the middle, but this time, Yan didn’t budge. He deflected the ball up and over the crossbar — his only save in 17 chances — and hearts broke all over Kunshan City Stadium.

Next up — it’s a Shanghai bonanza

SIPG will get Tianjin Quanjian in the next round of the cup, which will be the first round this year that features home-and-home matches. SIPG gets the second fixture at home. They will be joined in the quarters by two other Shanghai sides. Shenhua beat Beijing Guo’an 1-0 at Hongkou Stadium, and Shenxin, like SIPG, advanced after a 1-1 draw on the road, winning their penalty shootout against Hangzhou Greentown 6-5.

Both of the other Shanghai sides will also get their second match at home, Shenhua against Shandong Luneng and Shenxin against Jiangsu Suning. (Hard to know who will be favored in that one.)

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

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