For select moments during this lethargic encounter played under stifling conditions, Jiangsu Suning threatened to utterly dismantle Shanghai Shenxin and render the return leg a mere formality. But clinical execution has hardly been part of this floundering Nanjing side’s vocabulary in 2017 and so, when the China League One outfit pegged back the hosts at 2-2, it seemed a cheap and obvious trick.
If Jiangsu’s boardroom bigwigs weren’t a little embarrassed by the result, they might blush in the knowledge that the tattered playing surface of Nanjing Olympic Stadium, which appeared afflicted by some rare monocotyledonous disease, was broadcast to audience’s all across China. And while the result is by no means a complete disaster for Capello’s team, given the China FA Cup represents the sole salvageable memento from a season that continues to breed fresh disappointment, one hopes the Italian will play his strongest hand when the teams reconvene down the Yangtze River in a at the beginning of August.
CHINESE FA CUP
Jiangsu Suning 2
Benjamin Moukandjo 31
Bai Tianci 66
Cleiton Silva 85
The new manager’s only win thus far came in the previous round against Hunan and with a key clash against Liaoning Whowin at the weekend he rotated heavily, handing a debut to Benjamin Moukandjo and offering the likes of Gao Di, Ji Xiang, and the now alicebanded Wang Song a chance to impress.
Moukandjo, a Cameroon international who arrived a week ago from FC Lorient, gave the home side the lead with a calmly dispatched penalty moments after a first half drinks break and, despite being substituted midway with around 25 minutes remaining, offered strength and intelligent link up play with Ramires throughout. The one-time Monaco player certainly raises questions about the futures of Jiangsu’s other strikers Roger Martinez and Alex Teixeira.
Jiangsu largely controlled proceedings in the first half with the away side showing a slackness of ball distribution and Ramires dominating through a combination of combative midfield tackling and his trademark dribbling ability of constantly seeming to be on the cusp of losing possession without actually doing so.
Shanghai brought their own Brazilian to the party, Biro Biro, a midfielder with both the physique and cunning of a high schooler, the type of player for whom a simple five yard pass comes with a complementary series of stepovers.
The 22-year-old drifted gracefully across the frontline during the 90 minutes and tormented whichever defender happened to be standing nearby. His low drive after 25 minutes was the closest the away side went to a first half equalizer and the bear hug with which Juan Ignacio Martínez greeted him at the final whistle was fully deserved; it was his deliveries in the box that would set up both Shanghai goals.
Martínez’s team seemed content to wait and prey upon Jiangsu’s defensive inconsistencies, which grew as the thick evening heat sapped the game of its rhythm; goalkeepers were suddenly able to send a player halfway downfield with a simple long throw and the ball rolled out of touch through increasingly regular lapses in concentration.
It was during the 20 minutes after the interval that Jiangsu offered evidence of their divisional superiority. With a touch more confidence and composure, Capello would have undoubtedly won back to back cup victories. Ji Xiang’s long free kick bamboozled the Shanghai goalkeeper into an awkward punch, Moukandjo nearly doubled his tally when his thumping header found the side netting, and Gao Di spurned a handful of glorious chances that undermined a committed high-octane performance.
Shanghai’s equalizers when they came, spread either side of Ramires’ leaping conversion from a corner, were painfully familiar to Jiangsu fans.
The first, on 66 minutes, was created through goalkeeper Zhang Sipeng’s indecisiveness on a long cross to the back post. Bai Tianci, a Shandong Luneng loanee, capitalized on the mistake of Jiangsu’s second string keeper with his first touch of the game.
The second came when Jiangsu failed to clear its lines with a little over five minutes of time left to play. Cleiton Silva putting an end to the scramble with a powerful finish into the corner.
While Shanghai deserve credit for a spirited and opportunistic performance, the result masks the true imbalance between the two sides, one clearly evoked by the gaping holes the away team left in midfield, ones Ramires and Gao Tianyi were able to exploit throughout the second half. With a little more finesse, ball control, and that ever elusive thing called luck, Capello will believe a semi-final place is well within grasp.
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