Oscar comes and Paulinho goes as SIPG has a rough week and clings to life in the CSL title race. Guangzhou Evergrande looms in the FA Cup semis at Shanghai Stadium on Wednesday.
Paulinho’s departure levels the playing field
Nasser Al-Khelafi, Pina Zahavi, Neymar and Paulinho have accomplished what the CFA could and would not do: make it a more or less honest race for the 2017 CSL championship.
Neymar’s departure from Barcelona to PSG, with money provided by a Qatari kleptocrat and engineered by the Brazilian forward’s Israeli agent, and the Spanish side’s subsequent urgency to open their checkbook and improve their roster on the eve of the European season — all that international intrigue combined to pry Paulinho loose from Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao on Sunday, hours before GZ was set to take the field against hapless Henan Jianye.
It means that Guangzhou, bereft of options to replace Paulinho because the CSL transfer window is closed, face their last nine CSL matches, the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the quarterfinals of the ACL without one of their top players.
Those tears you see from SIPG are crocodile tears. The Red Eagles faced eight games without Oscar and two without Hulk because of the dictatorial hubris of the CFA.
(If the CSL’s rules imposing a 100% tax on foreign transfer fees remains in effect — and it’ll get an obvious test here since it disadvantages Evergrande — replacing Paulinho with a player of like quality next year is going to be difficult for the Cantonese.)
Tepid night for SIPG still results in 3-2 victory over Chongqing
The brutal pace of fixtures for SIPG continues to effect the team’s performance. Sunday night, the team lacked any of the spark which characterized so much of the first half of the season in Shanghai.
Hulk was locked in to shots from distance, all of which looked threatening but none of which particularly tested Chongqing keeper Deng Xiaofei. Hulk’s lack of interest in passing shut down Wu Lei’s game. Oscar, in his first CSL match since June 18, perhaps didn’t train as thoroughly during his sabbatical as he might have. He looked lost and, for most of the second half, slow and incompetent.
SIPG opened the scoring anyway when Chongqing forward Xu Yang comically mistimed a first-half header in his own box, completely missing and letting the ball slide down his left arm. Hulk potted the subsequent penalty kick.
There was no question that Xu touched the ball accidentally, and perhaps Referee Gu Chunhan reconsidered his call at halftime. Shortly after the second half began, he called a foul in the box on SIPG U23 defender Wei Zhen (not pulled after 15 or 20 minutes, as is André Villas-Boas’s habit, presumably because of the fixture pile-up). The “foul” may or may not have involved Wei slightly brushing Xu as he tried to get control of the ball at the edge of the box. It’s as soft a call as you’ll ever see.
The Brazilian Hyuri, in only his second start for Chongqing, easily made the penalty to bring Lifan level at 1-1.
A stellar strike from Akhmedov
Akhmedov responded with what most in Shanghai Stadium hoped was the decisive goal, pouncing on a loose ball in the 72nd minute, 20 yards out, and striking a magnificent, left-footed shot into the upper right hand corner of the net.
It’s a contender for goal of the year, but it was not the match winner. In the 87th minute, SIPG defenders Wang Shenchao, Fu Huan and Shi Ke all watched flat-footed and gaping inside the six-yard box as Liu Huan, one of three Chongqing players unmarked directly in front of Yan Junling, took a loose ball on the left side and tapped it in.
A draw would have left SIPG seven points down and finished in the CSL title race, but the captain, Wang, made up for his defensive error in spades a minute later with a gorgeous, arcing pass halfway across the field and directly on to Wu Lei in front of the Chongqing net. Wu didn’t miss the header and that gave SIPG a 3-2 win, keeping them alive in the CSL.
No fortune against China Fortune
Victory was required against Chongqing because of a midweek stumble in Qinhuangdao, a 2-2 draw against Hebei coupled with an Evergrande victory in Paulinho’s CSL swan song at Liaoning. It left SIPG five points behind Guangzhou.
A typically efficient shot from Elkeson and a nice pass from Hulk to He Guan gave SIPG an early and a very late goal, but they sandwiched two Hebei goals: a supersonic rocket from Israeli international Ezequiel Lavezzi and a tap-in after a mad scramble in front of the SIPG net in the 74th minute.
The two goals don’t tell the story for Hebei. A careless and disorganized SIPG defense could have conceded six or seven. A couple of misfires from Hebei, two crossbars, a post and some really first class saves from Yan Junling got SIPG an undeserved point.
Wu Lei blew three golden scoring chances, including as easy a header as you could possibly have.
Highlights from the 2-2 draw:
The Perils of Paulinho
Wednesday, SIPG will play the first of four matches in five weeks against Guangzhou Evergrande, this one at Shanghai Stadium in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
When you hear people talk about Guangzhou, this is what you hear: they’re not as dominant as they’ve been in the past, but they’re deadly at the end of matches.
Is it true?
In a word, yes.
During the first 80 minutes of play in CSL matches, Guangzhou Evergrande has scored 33 and conceded 23, which puts them in the category shared by Quanjian, R&F, Shandong and Guo’an. From the 80th minute on, though, Evergrande is very tough: they’ve scored 16, conceded only 5 (two of those meaningless) and improved their position by nine points.
By contrast, SIPG is the best team in the league through 80 minutes — 37 goals, 18 conceded. In the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time, the Red Eagles have kept that pace, scoring 14 and conceding 7, but that has only translated into three more points on the table. It’s fair to say that GZ’s timely, late game strikes account for the entirety of their lead at the top of the table.
The bright spot for SIPG is that almost all of GZ’s heroics came early in the season. Guangzhou picked up points after the 80th minute in five of their first eight matches. Since that eighth match, when a Yu Hanchao goal in the 86th minute beat Shenhua, 3-2, GZ hasn’t picked up any points in the late going.
Back into the CSL next Saturday
Saturday, it’s off to Guiyang for a match-up against Guizhou Zhicheng, ninth on the CSL table. Their first time they faced each other was, May 6, with a 3-0 win for SIPG in Shanghai. Although coach Manzano certainly knows a thing or two about the CSL in his three and a bit years in China and Guizhou are the CSLs form side at the moment so an easy game is not in the offing for SIPG this time around.