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SIPG thrashes Urawa yet again in ACL, but gets little for their trouble

The Shanghai SIPG column

Your regular updates on all things SIPG. Wednesday night at the Stadium, SIPG handed Urawa its hat, but the Japanese side escaped with a 1-1 draw.

Same as it ever was

Three times Shanghai SIPG has faced Urawa Red Diamonds in the Asian Champion’s League in 2017 and three times they have outplayed them.

In 270 minutes, SIPG has run the Japanese side up and down the pitch, taking 38 shots to 15 for the fluorescent-clad footballers from pink salon-laden, suburban Tokyo. What does SIPG have to show for it? Not much. A win, a loss and a draw — four goals a side on aggregate.

The 1-1 draw was Wednesday night in the first leg of the ACL semi-final at Shanghai Stadium was the most frustrating of the three. SIPG missed nine scoring chances, converting only a Hulk rocket™ from 30 yards out in the 15th minute and then watching a brutal defensive lapse by Wei Zhen cost them the lead 13 minutes later.

The two teams will now face each other Oct. 18 at Saitama Stadium. “We think we can score some away goals,” André Villas-Boas said after Wednesday night’s match, and based on form, they can. Will they?

Saudi side Al Hilal leads Persepolis in the western leg of the ACL semis 4-0, so the SIPG-Urawa winner will likely get an all-expenses paid trip to garden spot Riyadh, where the WAGS will still not be allowed to drive. (That modern advancement awaits the lucky women of the Wahhabi redoubt sometime next year.)

Bad luck, bad finishing and great goaltending

What kept SIPG out of the victory column Wednesday night?

Bad luck: in the 11th minute, Hulk and Elkeson both tried to pounce on a loose ball 15 yards out and knocked each other off the ball. In the 69th minute, a world class Oscar free kick left Urawa keeper Nishikawa Shusaku flat-footed and beaten, but it whacked off the post.

Bad finishing: Wu Lei missed a rebound header on that 40th minute Oscar shot and Ahkmedov had a wide open chance in the 55th minute and shot it wide. Hulk’s three corners never gave SIPG a good look at the goal.

The damned keeper: In the 40th minute, another gorgeous Oscar shot from distance inspired an acrobatic save by Nishikawa. Oscar had another chance on the short side in the 44th minute and Nishikawa blocked a blazing attempt headed for the upper right hand corner.

In the 57th minute, Nishikawa deftly handled a skipping Oscar shot, in the 60th minute, Wu Lei came in from the left side and Nishikawa shut him down, and in the 88th minute, a giveaway gave Wu a breakaway, but Nishikawa covered all the angles and Wu was left with no place to shoot.

Speaking of keepers, SIPG entered the match with one hand tied behind their back: the ridiculous yellow card given to Yan Junling during the Guangzhou ACL quarterfinal shootout kept the Chinese national team keeper in the stands for this one. Villas-Boas surprised by filling Yan’s job with 19-year-old Chen Wei, choosing him over the older, more experienced Sun Le. It was Chen’s maiden match as a top level professional. (Sun had started the only other match this year that Yan had missed.) As it turned out, it didn’t matter. No keeper on earth could have stopped the Urawa goal and besides that, Chen wasn’t tested.

More serious was the yellow in that Guangzhou match issued to SIPG defender and team captain Wang Shenchao — that one earned. It rendered Wang ineligible Wednesday night and Villas-Boas chose 20-year-old Wei Zhen as his left back. Urawa coach Takafumi Hori had his minions ruthlessly exploit the hapless Wei; what little attacking success Urawa had came in ventures down the right side. The Urawa goal came when Shi Ke moved out towards the fringe of the box to check a Urawa player, Wei missed the switch and watched, mouth agape, as the man Shi vacated, Kashiwagi Yôsuke, scored. AVB mercifully pulled the plug in the 54th minute on the Anhui kid. Yu Hai finished the match for him and Urawa never threatened again.

AVB, as per ACL rules, used four foreigners: Hulk, Elkeson, Oscar and Ahkmedov. Elkeson wasn’t particularly effective, and it has to be asked if using Ricardo Carvalho in the back line and starting Lue Wenjun up top might not have been a better move.

Highlights:

What’s next

While the rest of the CSL takes a long break, SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande will meet on Saturday in Guangdong in the second leg of the FA Cup. SIPG has a 2-1 advantage going into that match. The CFA could have scheduled it to give both teams plenty of rest, but instead, it’s three days after the ACL match-up for SIPG.

SIPG’s CSL campaign resumes on October 14 in Shenyang against relegation-bound Liaoning. After picking up four points on Evergrande in the last two CSL match days, SIPG is now only four points down with four matches to go and has a strong schedule advantage.

If they do close the gap, last Friday’s match at Gongti against Guo’an will be part of the reason. SIPG was outplayed and outhustled, but a long Hulk pass in the first half sent Oscar in alone on Guo’an keeper Yang Zhi and Oscar nutmegged him for the only goal of the match. While Guo’an had the lion’s share of possession, SIPG defenders, having one of their better matches of the year, gave them few good looks at the goal.

Highlights:

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they’re the Oakland A’s to Shenhua’s San Francisco Giants.

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