Existential football at Shanghai Stadium
Scoreless CSL draw against Tianjin Quanjian
There isn’t much to say about Sunday night’s SIPG-Quanjian match that the great French football writer Jean-Paul Sartre hasn’t already covered in Being and Nothingness.
Playing each other for the second time in four nights at a sweltering Shanghai Stadium, following up on a tumultuous, emotional FA Cup match on Thursday night, both teams jogged, then walked, then staggered their way through 90 minutes of scoreless futility.
A desultory first half was followed by a second half in which the exhausted players simply lost the plot. The second- and third-ranked teams in the league may have played the worst half of football in the CSL this season. It was only the third time SIPG has been held scoreless this season, and the first time at home.
Who’s to blame? Three letters: C. F. A.
What kind of schedule puts two teams together twice in four days in Shanghai in August?
SIPG faces a brutal stretch of fixtures
And this is nowhere near the end of it: Both SIPG and Evergrande, by dint of advancing in the FA Cup, now find themselves in a stretch in which they will play eight matches in twenty-four summer days.
For SIPG, there’s a silver lining: seven of those eight matches will be against teams also operating on short rest. Only a Saturday, Aug. 19 SIPG trip to Guizhou Zhicheng for a CSL match will advantage SIPG’s opponent.
Still, as the CSL heads into the home stretch and the Asian Champion’s League and the FA Cup move into their final stages, what should be tense, electric displays of top football are going to instead be part of an exhausted slog.
How bad is CFA scheduling? After eight matches in twenty-four days, SIPG has nine matches scheduled in the succeeding seventy-three days.
SIPG-Quanjian CSL match highlights: None. Nada. Zip.
Stunning Thursday night as SIPG completes huge comeback in FA Cup
It couldn’t have been a more different scene at the Stadium on Thursday night.
Trailing Quanjian 3-0 going into the return FA Cup match Thursday night, not only did the Red Eagles need at least three goals, but they had to do it without allowing Tianjin to score; a single away goal by the snake oil salesmen would have made an SIPG comeback virtually impossible.
SIPG got four, gave up none, and they move on in the Cup to face Evergrande (which completed a comeback of their own against R&F). There can be no doubt who led the way for SIPG: Oscar.
With the Brazilian midfielder freed from CFA suspension jail for the Cup, Hulk was free to play up top, where his deadly first touches and passes left Tianjin with no margin for error.
In the sixth minute, an Oscar pass in the box freed Hulk for a quick shot that sizzled through two defenders, across the grass and into the right hand corner of the net. In the 45th minute, an artful Oscar lean in the area bought a penalty that Hulk converted.
Witsel miscue brings SIPG level
In the 54th minute, Tianjin’s Belgian International, Alex Witsel, on the ball and unchallenged, tripped at midfield, turning the ball over to Odil Ahkmedov and giving SIPG a four-on-three break. Ahkmedov led the charge, made a gorgeous pass across on the left to Oscar, who cooly converted it. (Lu Wenjun, directly in line with Ahkmedov’s pass, saw Oscar breaking and made a gorgeous no touch decision on it.)
Oscar barely missed another goal in the 58th minute, dribbling from left to right and missing the right post by a couple of feet. He set up Li Shengling, who missed a point-blank shot in the 62nd minute, and set up a Hulk shot in the 72nd minute that hit the right post.
He was, by far, the best player on the pitch in the astonishing comeback, but the goal that put it away for Shanghai had nothing to do with Oscar or any of the other of Shanghai’s stellar foreigners.
In the 70th minute, the other guy freed from suspension’s icy grip, defender Fu Huan, maneuvered the ball down to the goal line on the right side. His pass across the mouth of the goal bounced off defender Zhou Xuri and right on to the foot of SIPG’s Zheng Zhiyun. Zheng’s poke bounced off defender Yang Shanping and into the net. Lucky, yeah, but 70 minutes of brilliance before that made it a lucky break that mattered.
Yang came within a hair of redeeming himself in the 83rd minute, barely missing a header from a corner kick that would have made it 4-1 and seen Quanjian through.