The Canton derby never disappoints. After going down 4-2 to R&F in successive games, Evergrande roared back to win 7-2 at Tianhe and dump R&F out of the CFA Cup 9-6 on aggregate.
Round 1: CFA Cup quarter final first leg
Build up to the first leg was dominated by R&F’s desperation to register a first home win since returning to Yuexiushan in late April. With the pressure mounting, the club decided that there was only one thing to do: paint Yuexiushan gold and green. March’s blue paint job was hastily covered up which caused much hilarity. However, this was mainly focused on the colour, rather than the action of repainting. R&F also chose to wear their blue and white away kit as part of trying to lift the hoodoo. The kit was also notable for having a non-R&F property group related sponsor for the first time, perhaps with a nod to clubs now having to show some fiscal responsibility.
All this was forgotten after what turned out to be a thrilling match though. R&F won 4-2 with doubles for Zahavi and Renatinho. However, Evergrande got a late goal to keep the tie alive.
The CSL then intervened in the Canton derby mid-summer series. Evergrande went up to Shanghai for a top of the table clash with SIPG, drawing 2-2. R&F stayed at Yuexiushan and, with Stojković’s blessing, in the same blue and white away shirts. It may only have been a placebo effect but it was effective. Yanbian were sent packing after a 6-2 thumping featuring four – yes, four – goals from Zahavi.
Round 2: CLS round 19
The Guangzhou sides reconvened at Yuexiushan on a hot and humid Saturday for the second Canton derby. It was a case of déjà vu all over again as both sides played in their away kits, R&F won 4-2, Zahavi and Renatinho both got doubles, and Evergrande registered another late consolation goal. With R&F fans asking ‘can we play you every week?’ the fixture list delivered the third Canton derby in the space of two weeks (and also showed that you should be careful what you wish for).
Round 3: CFA Cup quarter final second leg
Evergrande were no doubt heartened that SIPG blew their chance to go top of the league on Sunday. Their matchday squad was further buoyed by the re-introduction of Alan and returning hero Muriqui who were both rested at the weekend. R&F’s first choice right wingback Tang Miao wasn’t picked so Stojković changed formation as well as continuing his policy of playing reserve keeper Han Feng in the Cup.
The third installment of the Canton derby produced another see-saw game. R&F took the lead through a controversial Renatinho penalty to go 5-2 up on aggregate and leave Evergrande staring CFA Cup exit in the face. The reds are not six times CSL champions for nothing though and showed why in the remaining 80 minutes. They’d eased into a 3-1 lead on the night even before R&F’s Chen Zhizhao was sent off for two agricultural tackles on Liao Lisheng. Just before half time Evergrande pulled ahead 6-5 on aggregate thanks to Yu Hanchao.
Now it was R&F’s turn to respond and they so nearly did, wasting a brilliant counter attacking opportunity. Sub Gao Lin punished them by extending Evergrande’s lead as Jiang Zhipeng was again too easily out jumped at the back post. Stojković probably regrets playing Han instead of usual keeper Cheng Yuelei but even Cheng would’ve struggled to keep the reds at bay given the sometimes alarming lack of defensive cover.
R&F were given a lifeline via another controversial penalty, dispatched by Evergrande’s tormentor in chief Zahavi. R&F were 7-6 down now but whereas even an injury hit Evergrande were able to bring three Chinese internationals off the bench, R&F could not call on the same strength in depth. The reds duly added two more goals and somehow managed to squander a gilt edged chance to rack up what would’ve been their 10th goal on aggregate in the final minute.
Evergrande’s 7-2 win transformed a 2-4 deficit into a remarkable 9-6 aggregate win, sending them into the CFA Cup semi-finals. Scolari’s men could hardly have responded in a more emphatic way to the pre-match criticism. Surely nobody could accuse R&F of being overconfident going into an away game at Tianhe, but a defeat on this scale will still be a chastening experience. R&F have to lick their wounds before returning to Yuexiushan to face Liaoning, and their new manager, on Sunday.
In the longer term. this mid-summer series has really added something to the Canton derby. Whilst there had previously been plenty of exciting games, neither side could really point to that game to mercilessly taunt their opponents. Where Beijing have their 9-1 and Shenhua hold (held?) the Hongkou hoodoo over Beijing, the Guangzhou sides now have their equivalents. R&F’s back-to-back 4-2 wins will be remembered by the blue side of Guangzhou, although these will forever be cancelled out by Evergrande’s 7-2 demolition job. However, Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao can never take away the fact that Guangzhou R&F won the first two Canton derbies.
Only time will tell whether the three games have provided a defining moment in the history of the Canton derby but they have certainly set up the 2018 rivalry to be bigger and better than ever.