The mouth watering prospect of a Shanghai Derby in the CFA cup final is now a distinct possibility after Shenhua and SIPG both won the first leg of their cup semis this midweek.
Badly out-of-form Shenhua laboured to a 1-0 victory over second division side Shanghai Shenxin at Hongkou on Tuesday night, whilst SIPG beat Guangzhou Evergrande for the first time in 11 attempts last night with a last minute goal sealing a 2-1 victory.
Shanghai Shenhua 1-0 Shanghai Shenxin
After a nervous first half display which suggested Shenhua’s recent dressing room issues had yet to be resolved, unmarked Korean central defender Kim Kee-hee scored the only goal of the game, with a finish any striker would have been happy with after a low ball into the box.
Shanghai SIPG 2-1 Guangzhou Evergrande
Guangzhou rang the changes to rest several first team players and it was veteran defender Liu Jian who opened the scoring with a header in the box after 19 minutes. SIPG responded well and in the 54th minute Odil Ahmedov reacted quickly when the ball fell to him in the middle of the box to slot home emphatically. The home side left it late to seal the first leg victory when He Guan headed Hulk’s free-kick downwards in the six yard box, bouncing up on the turf past Guangzhou keeper Liu Dianzuo into the net.
What are the chances of a CFA cup final Shanghai Derby happening?
The first leg results sent a wave of excitement across fans throughout the city as both sides dared to imagine what could be the biggest Shanghai derby to date, and the chances of this happening look good despite Shenhua and SIPG taking only one goal leads into the second legs.
For Shenhua, despite all their numerous problems this season, an away match down in the far suburbs of Jinshan against mid-table CL1 side Shenxin is really a game they should be winning. Despite the fact the Hongkou side never wear the favourites tag well, they should have scored at least a goal or two more in the first leg. The only realistic way Shenhua could slip-up would be if Shenxin sneak a narrow 1-0 win on the night and win the tie on penalties. However that is unlikely, and with the 2nd leg ties taking place next month, Shenhua should have key men Guarin and Bai Jiajun fully fit by then.
The biggest question is really if SIPG can hold out against Guangzhou Evergrande at Tianhe stadium. They have the disadvantage of having conceded an away goal so a 1-0 victory for the home side would see hopes of a Shanghai derby in the CFA cup final dashed. However SIPG have the psychological advantage of now having beaten Evergrande once, and will go into the match with confidence. Evergrande will be forced to attack as they must score to progress, and if SIPG can sneak a goal on the counter-attack, the game could be cover.
Looking at the bigger picture, Shenhua have publicly stated the CFA is their priority this season. SIPG might not be saying the same but it’s likely the cup is also their main focus now as it represents their best chance for silverware this season. Five points off the lead in the CSL, they require Evergrande to throw away points to win the championship, something the Guangzhou side does not have a habit of doing. But there is also the matter of the Asian Champions League, which will see SIPG and Evergrande go head-to-head yet again, in the quarter-final next week. SIPG would of course love to win this competition but would have to beat Evergrande, then Kawasaki or Urawa Reds of the J-League, before meeting a team from West Asia in the final.
The second legs of the CFA cup are due to take place in the second half of September and curiously, by then both legs of the ACL quarter final between SIPG and Evergrande will have been played – so the winner of that tie will be less likely to be focused on the CFA cup. Certainly though, despite the CFA cup being the least prestigious trophy Evergrande have won, they can’t be accused of not trying to win it – in the last five years they have won it twice and came runners-up on another occasion.