It could have been better. But not much better. Tuesday night in the ACL, SIPG rocked Guangzhou Evergrande as no one has in nine years.
4-0. And it could have been worse.
Shanghai turned their Tuesday night Asian Champion’s League quarterfinal against Guangzhou Evergrande into a rollicking party, a 4-0 beatdown of the Cantonese side that all but ensured SIPG an ACL semi-final match-up against a Japanese side.
And here’s the thing: the scoreline doesn’t quite the reflect the match. It was worse than that for Guangzhou. Except for a few minutes at the start of the second half, when Guangzhou rallied with the hope that an away goal might rescue something from the night, SIPG utterly dominated and could have had six or seven goals.
In particular, it was SIPG’s resilience after some early disappointments that marked the night. Lu Wenjun broke in alone in the eighth minute, but fell victim to an excellent save from Zeng Cheng. A Hulk give-and-go in the twenty-third minute beat Zeng but went barely wide, and in the thirty-first minute, an Oscar shot from the top of the left side of the box also barely missed.
Hulk involved in all four SIPG goals
Not to worry. The onslaught was about to come: four SIPG goals in twenty-six minutes. At 38′, Guangzhou defender Zhang Linpeng shoved Wu Lei off the ball in the box, an easy foul call that Hulk converted into a goal from the spot.
In the first minute of added time at the end of the first half, Hulk launched a gorgeous, arcing ball from near the left corner to near the right post and onto the head of a backpedaling Wang Shenchao. The captain got enough on it to put it past Zeng.
At the 52′ mark, Hulk picked up a loose ball from the SIPG side and led Wu Lei on a two-on-one break. It was a clinic on how to handle that play, and Wu finished nicely.
Finally, a Hulk backheel sent Wu to the upper right corner of the box and the Nanjing-born front man fired an absolute rocket cross the goal into the left hand side of the net.
Some 36,503 fans showed up to watch despite ticket face values that were more than twice as high as typical matches at the Stadium. Match-goers were treated to Guangzhou’s worst defeat since October 11, 2008, a 6-0 loss to Changchun Yatai in the CSL.
(Boy, was that a different league. By the end of the year, there were only three foreign managers in the CSL, Guangzhou Pharmaceutical’s leading scorer was the aging Honduran international Luis Ramirez, with 12 goals, and the club played twenty-two friendlies that year, including matches against Chelsea, Perth Glory, South China [RIP] and TSW Pegasus. Newly promoted to League One that year, Shanghai Dongya resided in Jinshan Football Stadium.)
Backline distinguishes itself
Hulk, of course, was the center of everything that happened Tuesday night at the Stadium, but SIPG’s often leaky backline of Wang Shenchao, Fu Huan, Shi Ke and He Guan played their best match of the year. They were confident and nearly mistake-free. If they play at that level in the FA Cup and ACL the rest of the way, SIPG is a serious threat to win more than one piece of silver.
The return match in the ACL is in two weeks in Guangzhou, but both teams got some very welcome news in the FA Cup. The CFA announced yesterday that the SIPG-Evergrande return match for the Cup will be September 30 in Guangzhou, rather than in the middle of September, when both teams would have faced five matches in two weeks.