Some Guangzhou R&F seasons have ended with a bang – qualifying for the ACL in 2014 and staying up in 2015. Others have ended with a whimper. 2017 looks set to fall into the latter category. However, an inconclusive set of results for the other ACL chasers at the weekend means R&F still have the slimmest of hopes of a grandstand finish to the season.
Guangzhou R&F 2 – 1 Beijing Guoan
After being tagged as the ‘forgotten man’ in the last YN column, who should return to the Guangzhou R&F starting line-up but Apostolos Giannou? Junior Urso was joined on the injury list by Renatinho and manager Stojkovic opted to go with Giannou up front, leaving usual striker Xiao Zhi on the bench.
Youngster Huang Zhengyu returned as one of R&F’s three centre backs and was relieved to see a Beijing goal ruled out after five minutes for a tight offside call. It took a further 25 minutes to register the first legitimate goal of the game. Giannou’s hard work won the ball back for R&F and a swift counter-attacked ended with local boy – and former Guoan player – Chen Zhizhao sliding home the opener.
If you were going to bet on two players to score in this game you’d have picked Beijing’s Soriano and R&F’s Zahavi. You’d have been right too. Soriano got on the scoresheet first after being given an inexcusable amount of space by the R&F defence. Guoan then suffered an even worse defensive mix-up which led to a chance for Zahavi. He didn’t disappoint. At 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go, nerves were jangling around Yuexiushan given the number of chances Guoan had created in the game. The Cantonese held onto the lead for a valuable win though.
Shanghai Shenhua 3 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
A few years ago it was almost WEF editorial policy to refer to Shenhua as the CSL’s soap opera club. Shenhua in 2017 have very much fallen into this category with Gus Poyet walking out, fan protests against the owners, fans abusing the players and a derby day hammering. The one bright spot of their season has been the CFA Cup and with the second leg of the semi-final next weekend, this gave Shenhua yet another distraction. Surely this would be the year for R&F to end their Hongkou hodoo? Wrong. Shenhua ripped up the form book to win 3-1.
Renatinho was back for the Cantonese in place of Chen Zhizhao, and Xiao Zhi regained his starting place at Giannou’s expense. Things did not start well for Guangzhou R&F though. Keeper Cheng Yuelei had already been called into action a few times before Guarin thundered a freekick past him for Shenhua’s opener. Things went from bad to worse for R&F when Moreno converted a very soft penalty right at the start of the second half.
The Cantonese piled on the pressure and finally converted it into a goal when Xiao Zhi contorted his body in mid-air to head R&F back into the game. R&F couldn’t find an equaliser though and, yet again, conceded a late goal. This one was sickening not because it was a result changing goal but because Moreno somehow beat four –yes, four – defenders in the box before scoring it.
Other results at the weekend mean that R&F’s loss at Shenhua isn’t as damaging as it could have been. A surprise loss for Quanjian in the Tianjin derby, Hebei only managing a draw against Changchun, and Shandong losing away at Henan mean that R&F are still four points of fourth (which should be good enough for the ACL if Evergrande or SIPG win the CFA Cup). The outside dream of ACL football is still just about alive. However, with Quanjian playing their game in hand against Jiangsu in mid-week, by the time of R&F’s next match in October the dream could be dead. This is without mentioning R&F potentially being leapfrogged by Guizhou who also have a game in hand.
Stojkovic hasn’t completely given up hope yet and neither has YN. The Cantonese will need to beat Henan at Yuexiushan in mid-October to keep themselves in the ACL hunt and hope others slip up. After losing to Hebei at the start of September, this is all R&F can do. They should be boosted by Junior Urso’s return for the final four games of the season as the Brazilian is back in training. Zahavi is still continuing his quest for the golden boot and single season scoring record so he won’t want R&F to let up either. The odds are certainly against R&F qualifying for the ACL for the second time though. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but she is definitely clearing her throat.