SIPG travels to Jinan, where a bad second half costs them a chance to leapfrog GZ
Forty-six minutes of glory
It started with a twenty-third minute pass from SIPG midfielder Odil Akhmedov, a lyrical piece of work that sang it’s way through three Shandong Luneng defenders on Sunday night and landed sweetly on the right foot of Wu Lei, who calmly redirected it across the goalmouth and into the left hand corner of the net. (It was Wu’s 13th goal of the year, which puts him at second in the league and with six more than any other Chinese player.)
So began 46 minutes in which Shanghai SIPG bestrode the shambolic colossus that is the CSL, two points ahead of Evergrande, the rough god that rides over the league from it’s stadium in Guangzhou and it’s offices in Beijing.
Forty-six minutes in the mist in Jinan, and then it all came crashing down.
In the 69th minute, a short corner kick from the left side came to Shandong’s Graziano Pelle, who — hard to tell if it was on purpose or not — headed the ball parallel to the goal line, all the way across to Jin Jingdao on the right side. The unmarked Jin had an easy header to tie the match.
Twenty minutes later, in the waning moments of the match, the coup de grace, a Shandong jailbreak. SIPG keeper Yan Junling and the SIPG back line collapsed in disarray as Luneng players swarmed in front of the goal. A first shot hit the crossbar. A follow-up hit the right post. Standing, waiting for the third rebound of the sequence, was Wu Xinghan. He tapped it in from a couple of feet out and gave Shandong a 2-1 victory.
The two second half goals by Shandong were consistent with the run of play: after an evenly matched first half, Shandong utterly dominated the second half. SIPG’s only real chance was a fifty-second minute shot from Elkeson that bounced off scrambling Shandong defender Gil and fortuitously into the arms of keeper Wang Dalei.
You’ve heard this before: SIPG is shorthanded
Playing shorthanded has taken it’s toll on SIPG. Oscar remains suspended for two more CSL matches. The Shandong match was the last of Fu Huan’s six-match suspension; the SIPG backline, once more disorganized and prone to panicked, ineffective clearances, could use him. Midfielder Zhang Wei collapsed in a heap in the 47th minute with what looks to be a hamstring injury. Defender Shi Ke limped off the field in the 76th minute. Both are questionable for the upcoming matches this week in the FA Cup and the CSL against Tianjin Quanjian.
How much has the Oscar loss affected SIPG? On one level, not at all: SIPG was four points down to Evergrande on June 22, the day of the suspensions, and is now only one point in arrears. Since that day, the two sides have matched each other in every round except the weekend of July 1 — while Shanghai was beating Jiangsu 1-0 in Nanjing, Guangzhou was losing 4-3 in Tianjin to Quanjian.
But. The ruthlessly predatory SIPG of earlier in the season hasn’t been seen in a while. Between Wu, Hulk, Oscar and Ahkmedov or Elkeson, any defensive mistake in the defending one-third was a nightmare for SIPG opponents.
Now, CSL defenses, freed from the specter of Oscar picking them apart, and with a wink and a nod from Chinese referees, focus, often violently, on Hulk. In thirteen CSL matches with Oscar behind him, Hulk has nine goals. In four matches without Oscar, one goal.
In all competitions, in matches with Oscar in the line-up, SIPG is scoring 2.43 goals/match; without the slick Brazilian, they’re at 2.00/match.
Yet another suspension
SIPG coach André Villas-Boas has been suspended again, again for two games. The cause: “improper comments” in Tianjin after SIPG’s 3-0 loss there two weeks ago in the Cup.
Wouldn’t it be great if the CSL stripped the hypocrisy from it’s suspension announcements? It seems like most of the CSL suspensions this year fall into one of four categories: (1) Things That Were Said That Hurt the CFA’s Feelings, (2) Rough Play in Matches Televised in Europe, (3) Rough Play That Goes Viral on [Banned Internet Site] and (4) Things the CFA Wishes You Had or Hadn’t Done With Your Hands.
The suspension is for FA Cup matches. However, the CFA has decided that if SIPG goes out of the FA Cup after Thursday night’s match at Shanghai Stadium against Tianjin Quanjian, what the hell, they’ll suspend Villas-Boas for Sunday’s CSL match at the Stadium against Quanjian, too.
Oscar and Fu Huan will both be eligible to play Thursday night and Fu can return, if he’s up to it, on Sunday night. (Temperatures in the mid 30s are forecast for both matches.)
Oscar’s full-time return is scheduled for August 13 at Shanghai Stadium against Chongqing Lifan.