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SIPG, Evergrande sweat it out, end up where they started: one point apart at the top

Shanghai SIPG

Guangzhou Evergrande ends a 15-match winning streak for SIPG at Shanghai Stadium.

SIPG rallies twice in the heat to earn a draw

Maybe the fans Saturday night should have gone with a “D”? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

A nervy, 2-2 draw at a sweltering Shanghai Stadium (38 degrees at game time) on Saturday night against Guangzhou Evergrande leaves the two teams one point apart with twelve CSL matches remaining.

It could have been worse. The Red Eagles stared down two one-goal deficits, a number of bizarre refereeing decisions, the heat and a crowd whose dominant emotion seemed to be nervous dread.

And, of course, a shorthanded roster: SIPG continues to battle it’s way through the CSL’s dartboard suspension system: “What great aim… that’s #8 suspended for, he’s got it lined up, and, that could have landed on the pupil of a fly’s eyeball, yes, it’s eight games!”

The first half was scoreless, both teams cautious. A close-in Elkeson shot in the 23rd minute that went barely wide was the best chance for either side and long stretches elapsed without any particular momentum.

The second half was a firecracker, with four lead changes

Alan opened the scoring in the 51st minute from well outside the box, a skipping shot struck without any particular force that SIPG keeper Yan Junling was slow to react to.

Wu Lei struck back seven minutes later with a gorgeous first touch on an Elkeson pass into the middle of the box. Streaking from left to right, Wu attempted to shoot the ball back against the grain into the left corner, but Evergrande defender Feng Xiaoting’s sliding, desperate attempt to block the shot succeeded only in wrong-footing the keeper and deflecting the ball into the vacated right side of the goal.

The 1-1 score lasted 12 minutes. Guangzhou forward Yu Hanchao dashed towards the left goalpost, past napping SIPG defender Zhang Wei, took a neat little goal line pass from Gao Lin and tucked a shot just inside that post, past a helpless Yan.

Wu Lei then proved that on this night, at least, he was the second best forward in Shanghai Stadium. (The best was in the stands: Cristiano Ronaldo. Before the match, standing in front of a near pitch-sized visage of Himself that had been dragged out for the occasion, Ronaldo addressed the 46,717  crowd and offered the opinion that Shanghai was so darned hot because Ronaldo Himself was in town.)

The goal that tied the match at 2-2 was, to be fair, down to Hulk as much as Wu. In the 85th minute, the Brazilian got the ball at the top of the box. An entirely reasonable fear of the Hulk left foot pinched the Guangzhou defenders in towards the middle, and Hulk reacted by swinging the ball to Wu on the right side. Wu’s shot, though from a bit of an angle, had an unmolested path to the back of the net.

Guangzhou gets a little help from their friends

After Wu’s goal, the only remaining action was provided by referee Huang Yejun, whose inconsistent calls on fouls drove both teams crazy all night. In the 90th minute, Guangzhou defender Zou Zheng attacked Elkeson directly from behind. Elkeson had been dribbling just outside the box and looked to have a clear path forward. Zou hit him twice, in neither case making any attempt to play the ball, and finally took Elkeson to the turf. It’s a red card in any league on the planet, except, apparently, the Chinese Super League when Guangzhou is on the pitch.

Hulk’s subsequent free kick skipped passed the left post by just a bit and that was the last shot, literally and figuratively, for either side.


Scolari vs. Villas-Boas

The run of play was about as even as you can get on the field, but the match did lay bare a profound difference in how well-coached the teams are.

Guangzhou, coached by Big Phil — the Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari — was in better shape to weather the heat, had better technique on balls in the air, had defenders who reacted to possession in their own box with sangfroid rather than panicked, popped-up clearances, and had a much better sense for the gamesmanship that can disrupt an opponent, e.g., lingering on the ball before an opponent’s free kick to disrupt momentum.

Scolari also ordered a shut down on Yan Junling’s season-long tendency to try to hit Hulk on every long clearance. Hulk found himself surrounded and unable to maneuver, but it wasn’t until Lue Wenjun came in at the 73rd minute that Yan gave up on Hulk in favor of Lue.

André Villas-Boas is only 39, not far removed from the age of some of his players, and he’s clearly a player’s coach. Everywhere he goes, he brings a liveliness and joie di vivre to his squads — and wins. But after watching him for six months in Shanghai, it doesn’t look like SIPG is as technically solid as some of the teams they play, and they don’t appear to be getting better in that way.

Next up for SIPG

After Saturday’s match and a mid-week, 3-0 FA Cup loss in Tianjin against Quanjian, who now find themselves in the driver’s seat for the Cup and in third place in the CSL, SIPG gets a much needed seven days of rest before traveling to Jinan to play fourth-place Shandong Luneng on July 30. SIPG follows that with two more matches against Quanjian, Thursday, August 3 in the Cup and Sunday, August 6 in the CSL, both at Shanghai Stadium.

Down three goals in the Cup tie, and with only two days off before the CSL match, it’ll be interesting to see what AVB does with his line-up in that first match. Oscar will play 90 minutes, obviously, but the rest of AVB’s decisions will be difficult.

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

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