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Five bummed out days in October: SIPG out of CSL title race, ACL tourney

Shanghai SIPG

Your regular update on all things SIPG. The Red Eagles crash out of the CSL title race and the ACL.

Over and out

Pick up your China doll
It’s only fractured
And just a little nervous from the fall

— Garcia/Hunter

Five days in October ended SIPG’s chase for silverware in two races: a 3-3, come-from-ahead draw at Shenyang on Saturday doomed the Red Eagles in the CSL and a disheveled 1-0 loss in remote, suburban Tokyo Wednesday against Urawa Red Diamonds did the same thing for SIPG in the Asian Champion’s League.

The Liaoning Hongyun match may have been academic; Evergrande teetered on the brink of a catastrophic home loss the night before against soon-to-be-relegated Yanbian, but somehow — [cough] hand ball [cough] — came away with the three points they needed to stay in a commanding position in the league.

The match in Japan, though — that’s going to leave a mark. SIPG got outthought and outworked in front of a large, wild crowd on a soggy night.

Urawa showed their hand right from the start: they played at least nine men behind the ball, everybody back except forward Koroki Shinzo, who makes the Energizer Bunny look like a stoned 80-year-old.

SIPG mostly controlled the ball and the pace, but faced with a minefield in the last third of the field, SIPG panicked: ill-considered one-touch passes into nowhere (Odil, what’s the haps?), heavy leading balls (hiya Oscar!), ill-considered one-on-three dribbling attempts (how’s tricks, Hulk?), and in particular, a lot of standing around (Wu Lei, how’s it hanging?).

Silva delivers for Urawa

The grace and pace that has marked the SIPG attack all year was missing, and Shanghai could have used it after an eleventh-minute catastrophe — a header for a goal by Rafael Silva on a perfect corner kick by Kashiwagi Yosuke.

Silva started out the play marked by Ahkmedov, but the Uzbek unaccountably let him drift away, and Silva had an easy time of it. It was part of a primum dimidium horribilis for Ahkmedov. Besides his mysterious foli à deux with Silva, Ahkmedov’s passes consistently misfired, he was one of many SIPG defenders making clumsy challenges and he missed a wide-open shot from the top of the box in the 41st minute, SIPG’s best scoring chance of the night. It was the worst 45 minutes Ahkmedov has played in an SIPG uniform.

The Silva goal put SIPG down 1-0, 2-1 on aggregate, and Urawa immediately retreated into what amounted to a 4-5-1, which, by a few minutes into the second half, had become a 5-4-1.

SIPG countered with… nothing.

Hulk, shadowed all night, never had a chance within twenty-five yards of the goal. Elkeson was MIA and Wu Lei would have had to buy a ticket on a plane to get as close as MIA. Wu was also quite lucky that the Australian referee didn’t give him a yellow for either of his poorly simulated dives in the box. Oscar and Ahkmedov didn’t set up a single good chance all night, and André Villas-Boas’s introduction of Wei Shihao and Yu Hai, replacing defenders, had no discernible effect.

The Japanese side, well coached by Hori Takafume, a mid-season replacement for Mihailo Petrović, who coached Urawa against SIPG in the ACL group stage, was simply too cohesive on defense. Villas-Boas had no answers and SIPG, unaccustomed to dealing with such well-executed defense, lost it’s composure in the last twenty minutes.

Highlights of Urawa-Shanghai:

Highlights of Liaoning-Shanghai (note the sixth goal, a spectacular bicycle kick by Liaoning’s Zhang Ye, and note that Liaoning deserved a better fate than a draw against the Hulk-less Red Eagles):

Coming up for Shanghai

The Red Eagles play Guangzhou R&F this weekend at the Stadium; if SIPG collects at least three points in their last three matches, they’ll clinch second place. SIPG has already clinched a trip to the 2018 ACL and a victory in the FA Cup against Shenhua will rid SIPG of the need to play in late January or early February ACL playoff rounds.

The match is absolutely critical for R&F, who are level with Shandong, each two points behind Quanjian for what will likely be the final ACL spot from China. Eran Zahavi, the Fuli striker and Israeli international, brings with him his five goal lead in the race for the CSL scoring title. (Wu Lei is third with 19 goals.)

Evergrande needs three points in their last three matches to clinch the CSL title; they’ll likely get all of them this weekend at Tianhe against Guizhou, which is all but out of the race for the ACL slots from China.

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

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