Guangzhou R&F’s slim hope of qualifying for the ACL become even slimmer after losing away at Hebei. Their next two fixtures see the Cantonese host fellow ACL qualification contender Bejing Guoan and travel to midtable Shanghai Shenhua who are in the midst of another crisis. If R&F want to be playing for more than pride in October, they’ll need to win both games.
The CSL may have been on an international break but that didn’t mean that the R&F players were on the beach. In fact, they were on the catwalk. Chen Zhizhao, Cheng Yuelei, Han Feng, Yi Teng, Li Tixiang, Lu Lin, and Xiang Baixu all strutted their stuff as part of Guangdong Fashion Week. The seven players’ efforts weren’t the only eye-catching thing about the Cantonese club over the break: Guangzhou R&F 1 – 0 Arsenal was even more surprising. Admittedly this was at the U12 Junior Soccer World Challenge in Japan, but as the only Chinese side invited R&F’s youngsters did well. They finished 10th out of 24 teams in a competition won by Barcelona.
R&F’s legal department were also busy. They acted quickly to refute rumours that former striker Aaron Samuel Olanare was still owed wages from his time in Guangzhou. According to the club, they’d paid the salary into the Nigerian’s Chinese bank account but the CSKA Moscow man had not managed to transfer the money out of China.
China’s World Cup qualifying campaign attempt ended after the national team were unable to produce another final day miracle as results elsewhere didn’t go their way. A goal made at Yuexiushan – Jiang Zhipeng crossing for Xiao Zhi – brought China level and went some way to justifying Xiao’s selection ahead of Wu Lei. Huang Zhengyu was also on duty with the U22 team.
Hebei 1-2 Guangzhou R&F
Without the injured Urso and rested duo of Jiang Zhipeng and Huang Zhengyu, R&F’s line-up had an unfamiliar look in Qinghuangdao on Sunday night. Xiao Zhi was partially rested by being put on the bench, meaning Ye Chugui came in as the furthest forward domestic player. Renatinho and Zahavi were the sole foreigners in the starting XI with Sölvi Ottesen left on the bench. After a less than spectacular set of initial appearances for R&F, Ottesen seems to have fallen behind Huang Zhengyu, Li Tixiang, Yi Teng and Jiang Jihong in the pecking order for the back three. This must be worrying for the Icelander given that Urso’s injury had opened up a foreign player slot.
The Cantonese suffered more disruption when Renatinho went off injured mid-way through the first half after being hacked down by Hebei’s Mbia. Tang Miao also had to be replaced because of injury early in the second half. By this point R&F were already 2-0 down though. Aloísio opened the scoring for Hebei and Zhang Lifeng doubled their advantage four minutes later. Yi Teng showed good reactions from a corner to pull one back for R&F in the second half and Zahavi uncharacteristically missed a gilt edged chance to equalise at the death. However, an incredible sliding challenge by Lu Lin and then smart play by Cheng Yuelei in goal had denied Hebei on two occasions immediately before this so R&F could not feel too hard done by.
The forgotten man
There was a rare sighting of Apostolos Giannou in an R&F shirt at Yuexiushan during the international break. The Australian international has featured just twice this season but played in an inter-squad (including the Hong Kong R&F side) game during the break. A rumoured switch to Panathinaikos failed to materialise over the summer leaving the striker in limbo in Guangzhou until the end of the season at least. Giannou scored only a handful of goals last season and has been a real victim of the reduction to three foreign players this season. Stojković never mentions Giannou at press conferences and it is unclear whether ability, attitude or injury is the main reason the Aussie has featured only twice this year.
Guangzhou R&F v Beijing preview
Losing away to Hebei in a one off game would not be a disaster. Losing away to Hebei when you need to leapfrog them to have a chance of qualifying for the ACL is a different matter. Compounding this by losing to Beijing Guoan – another side with an outside shot at the ACL – would all but kill off Guangzhou R&F’s increasingly small hopes of playing in the ACL next year.
Being without Rentainho, Urso and possibly Tang Miao too will not help R&F, nor will Guoan’s remarkable comeback against Guizhou at the weekend. The Cantonese do have one thing in their favour though: Yuexiushan.
R&F have a proud home record against Guoan, going unbeaten at Yuexiushan. Indeed, R&F’s first ever game in the CSL was a 3-1 home win over Beijing back in March 2012. Lu Lin, Cheng Yuelei and Tang Miao all started that day and, if Tang recovers from injury, all can expect to start at Yuexiushan five and a half years on. They’ll need to be on top form and Zahavi will need to rediscover his scoring boots if the Cantonese are to win this one.
Shanghai Shenhua v Guangzhou R&F preview
R&F’s away record against Shenhua is as bad as their home record against Guoan is good. The Cantonese have never won at Hongkou. With Shenhua potentially distracted by the change of manager, a Shanghai derby hangover and/or the CFA Cup, this could be a good opportunity for R&F to break their Hongkou hoodo. If they don’t, their hopes of ACL football in 2018 will be all but over.