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Meet the new boss: SIPG goes top of the heap in Chinese football

Shanghai SIPG

Your regular updates on all things SIPG. RIP Guangzhou Evergrande: May, 2010-September, 2017

SIPG beats Evergrande 4-1 at Tianhe and now rules China

There’s a new king of Chinese football: it’s Shanghai SIPG. They did it the way Frazier and Ali did it, the way Louis and Liston did it: they knocked out the champ.

Saturday night, in front of an increasingly glum crowd and Evergrande team at Tianhe, SIPG humiliated the Cantonese 4-1 to crash the holders out of the FA Cup and put SIPG in the finals against Shenhua.

It follows SIPG’s elimination of Evergrande in the Asian Champion’s League and concludes a series of six matches between the two teams this year in which SIPG got three wins and a draw and outscored Evergrande 15-12.

(To be sure, SIPG remains four points behind Evergrande in the CSL, but the CFA’s interventions in the league — ludicrously heavy-handed suspensions at various points for SIPG’s Villas-Boas (including a brand new, eight-gamer this week), Oscar, Hulk, Ahkmedov and Wu Lei — have irretrievably damaged the integrity of the race. Guangzhou’s championship, if that’s how it ends up, is meaningless.)

Guangzhou has been atop the league since May, 2010, when they supplanted Beijing Guo’an in first place in Round 10 of that CSL season. They didn’t go down Saturday without a fight. They dominated the first 20 minutes, scoring at the eleventh minute on an immensely skilled piece of dribbling by Goulart, finished with a perfect feed to Gao Lin streaking up the middle.

That tied the match 2-2 on aggregate and because of the away goals rule, Guangzhou was headed through.

Curious yellow

But the match turned, quickly and decisively, on a pair of yellow cards.

In the 18th minute, a hard tackle irritated Oscar, who said something to referee Ma Ning. The referee began screaming at Oscar. The shocked Brazilian walked away, but the referee stalked him and gave Oscar a yellow when Oscar finally turned around. “Unprofessional” doesn’t even begin to describe Ma’s behavior.

If that didn’t wake up SIPG, what happened next did. In the 22nd minute, Liao Lisheng harshly tackled Oscar and got a yellow; it was closer to a red than it was to no foul.

SIPG dominated play from that point on and cashed in ten minutes later, when Hulk, uncharacteristically, didn’t take an SIPG corner. That left him free lurking in front of the net when Gao Lin’s headed clearance misfired and landed at Hulk’s feet. He couldn’t and didn’t miss the chance to tie the match.

Things got worse for Guangzhou, much worse. In the 40th minute, Liao tackled Oscar from behind, again nearly a red, and that earned him his second yellow and disqualification.

Five minute later, moments before the halftime whistle, the death blow: six mesmerized Guangzhou defenders surrounded Hulk and the ball at the top of the box. Hulk waited, juked, and then made a beautiful touch pass through a very small space that found Wei Shihao all alone in front of Evergrande keeper Zeng Cheng. Very alone. Wei had time to check Youtube for recent goal celebration ideas, text his girlfriend about a late dinner and buy some new boots on Taobao before finally putting the ball past a helpless Zeng.

That gave SIPG a 4-2 SIPG lead on aggregate, and the away goals rule meant that Guangzhou, a man down, needed three to win the match. Evergrande’s disheartened performance after halftime indicated a lack of belief in that possibility.

The white flag came in the 64th minute, when Big Phil subbed out Gao Lin. All that remained was two Oscar goals. The first came in the 78th minute, when Oscar simply outran a group of lackadaisical Guangzhou defenders and broke in alone on Zeng, the second in the 81st on a gorgeous chip shot over Zeng, who had perhaps abandoned his line a bit early.


Odds and ends from the Cup

— Shanghai took the field wearing white shirts, red shorts and blue lettering for their sponsor. It’s by far their worst look, but may have been their only option, assuming they burned the uniforms they were wearing in the second leg of the Champion’s League match at Guangzhou.

— Ricardo Carvalho made his second start of the year for SIPG. The 38-year-old, unofficial player/coach solidified the backline and made a lunging, second-half clearance that prevented a goal.

— SIPG will play Shenhua in the finals; the Hongkou side were dominated by second division Shenxin in their semi-final return match but won 1-0 against the Jinshan team anyway, 2-0 on aggregate. Shenxin was missing their best player, the injured Biro Biro.

— Those matches against Shenhua will conclude a scheduling fluke in which SIPG played 22 matches against five teams: Evergrande, Jiangsu, Shenhua, Quanjian and Urawa.

— The FA Cup final is currently scheduled for November 11 and 25, but may have to be moved if SIPG gets past Urawa in the Champion’s League.

The CFA is more into discipline than your average Folsom Street Fair attendee

“His conduct has severely influenced society in a negative fashion.” With those words, the CFA announced another suspension for André Villas-Boas centered around speech issues.

The Portuguese will serve an eight match CSL ban — the last four of this season, the first four of next season, if he wants to return to China — for protesting a referee’s decision by rubbing his fingers together (suggesting a bribe) during the SIPG-Beijing Guo’an match at Gongti.

You can see a photo of it here:

On the season, that makes 24 games’ worth of suspension for SIPG from the CFA, 16 involving actions taken off the pitch.

There is no room for doubt now that an uncorrupted and transparent approach to league discipline by a CFA whose thumb is not planted squarely on the scale would have left SIPG on top of the league.

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

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