Guangzhou R&F go into the international break having seen their mid-summer run of good form come to an end. A loss away to Guizhou followed by a draw against Shandong has dropped the Cantonese side back to sixth in the CSL.
Guizhou Zhicheng 2 – 0 Guangzhou R&F
Whilst the build-up focussed on the Tang twins playing on opposite sides, the more significant news for Guangzhou R&F was that Junior Urso hadn’t recovered from his injury. This kept Sölvi Ottesen in the team at centre back and the Icelander’s chequered R&F career continued at Guizhou.
First, Ottesen was outpaced by Jelavic who set up on-form Rubén Castro to score the opener. Ottesen does not appear the most mobile of centre backs and this then cost him two yellow cards in little over five minutes. Ottesen could have little complaint over the first but given that Huang Zhengyu was coming across to cover, the second was slightly harsh.
Reduced to 10 men, the Cantonese were then undone by one of their own. On-loan Min Junlin scored with a pinpoint shot from just outside the D to put Guizhou 2-0 ahead. The young midfielder played for R&F’s Hong Kong side – more of them later – last season and has already scored three times in the CSL this season.
R&F thought they’d got back into the game when Zahavi scored but it was ruled out for a marginal offside call. Neither the Israeli nor Renatinho could convert any of their chances as Guizhou became the first team to hold R&F scoreless for 10 games.
Guangzhou R&F 1 – 1 Shandong Luneng
After the Guizhou loss, R&F’s CSL winning streak may have been over but their Yuexiushan winning run stood at five. Memories were turned to the seven home game winning streak at the start of the 2012 season but Shandong had other ideas.
Urso’s return to fitness meant Ottesen’s red card suspension was meaningless as Stojković was able to field his preferred foreign trio of Urso, Renatinho and Zahavi once again. Captain Jiang Zhipeng also came back into the team.
In a game where chances were not in short supply for either side, it was a surprise that it took an hour for the first goal. Guangzhou R&F seemed to have butchered a 3-1 counter-attack but as Shandong keeper Wang Dalei pushed Renatinho wide, he made contact with the Brazilian and the referee gave a penalty. Zahavi scored from the spot to notch his 24th of the season.
Shandong immediately hit back as R&F’s Cheng Yuelei had a moment to forget. Cheng spilled Zhang Chi’s cross straight to Pellè’s feet and the Italian poked home the equaliser. R&F dominated possession and continued to attack but Zahavi’s dive in the box with ten minutes to go was desperate and only earned him a yellow card. The drama wasn’t done but for once R&F managed to fight off late attacks by their opponent and didn’t concede a late goal. The 1-1 draw favours Shandong but pleases neither side in their race for ACL qualification.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Premier League kicks off next weekend and once again an R&F team will be involved. The Hong Kong R&F team finished second bottom last year but are shaping up to be a tougher proposition this time. They’ve made several signings to strengthen the team, including loaning Bruninho from Guangzhou R&F. The Brazilian failed to score in the CSL in his seven appearances last season and will be hoping for better in Hong Kong. Or should that be Guangzhou?
Controversially, the Hong Kong R&F side will now play their home games in Guangzhou’s Yanzigang Stadium. (Although from what YN remembers from playing 5-a-side there, Yanzigang can hardly be described as a stadium.) In addition being able to play their Hong Kong Premier League games in mainland China, R&F are now also allowed to sign foreign players and continue to benefit from different rules on the number of mainland Chinese allowed in their squad. YN is not an expert on Hong Kong football but it seems that either the HK Premier League is desperate for R&F to field a team, or that R&F have got some brilliant negotiators on their side.
Guangzhou R&F are one of five clubs in the battle for third place and ACL qualification. With the CSL going on an international break, the next few weeks will give Stojković time to plan for important fixtures against two of the others, and last season’s third placed team, when the season resumes. R&F will face new money side Hebei away, before hosting traditional power Beijing Guoan, and then going to Hongkou to face traditional power with new money Shanghai Shenhua.
Stojković must use the break to tighten up R&F’s leaky defence. The Cantonese concede far too many goals, late or otherwise, for a side with aspirations to play in the ACL again. The number of late goals conceded – against Evergrande (twice), Hebei, Beijing, Henan, Quanjian, Changchun, and Jiangsu by YN’s count – hints at a psychological issue but keeping only three clean sheets all season suggests a deeper routed problem.
It will be difficult for Stojković to solve this over the break though as two key defenders will be on international duty. Left wing back Jiang Zhipeng and striker Xiao Zhi are both with the senior squad whilst centre back Huang Zhengyu is in the U22 squad. All three were watched by a casual looking Lippi at Yuexiushan yesterday. Whilst the Chinese national side’s international season is all but over, Guangzhou R&F still have a lot to play for come September.