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SIPG falls to Shenhua 1-0 at Hongkou in first leg of FA Cup final

Shanghai SIPG

Your regular update on all things SIPG. A rough night at Hongkou, yes. Panic, no.

Off the foot of babes: first half debacle for SIPG

Dr. Jekyll was unavailable after spraining his ankle in pre-game warm-ups on a beat-up Hongkou Stadium pitch Sunday night, so Mr. Hyde suited up in SIPG red at Sunday night’s first leg of the FA Cup final.

Hyde turned in a Greatest Hits set from SIPG losses this year. It was all there: a lazy first half, Hulk’s motor failing to turn over, Oscar AWOL for long stretches, incompetent and prejudicial refereeing and a brutal defensive lapse.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that for all of that, the final score was only 1-0 for Shenhua. SIPG is still decently situated for the second leg next Sunday at 8 pm at Shanghai Stadium.

The first half was uninspiring at best. The highlight was surprise starter Wei Zhen’s fantastic ninth minute clearance to avoid what looked like a sure Shenhua goal. Also nice to see: a near goal on an obviously rehearsed, nicely worked give-and-go from Ahmedov and Oscar on a corner kick.

The worst of it came in the thirty-eighth minute, when Shenhua’s Sichuanren midfielder Liu Ruofan, all of 18 years old, possessor of 86 lifetime minutes of CSL experience, dribbled around Wang Shenchao on the right side of the box and steered a pass towards a lonely Obafemi Martins in the middle. Martins tapped the ball into the net, one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score.

SIPG defenders He Guan and Shi Ke turned to each other after the goal and you didn’t need a lip reader to see what they were saying: “我以为你看着他.” (“I thought you had him.”)

Oscar booked for allowing himself to be tripped

At halftime, André Villas-Boas yanked midfielder Yu Hai for the more attack-oriented Wei Shihao and the move paid off with a much livelier SIPG offense. After splitting possession with Shenhua in the first half, SIPG had the lion’s share of the ball in the second half and three times almost had an equalizer.

The first chance came just five minutes in. A revitalized Oscar juked half the Shenhua roster out of their jocks and spotted Wu Lei streaking towards the left side of the Shenhua net. Oscar’s pass was just a hair past a diving Wu.

In the 71st minute, Oscar again eluded a whole group of would-be Shenhua tacklers, but this time he was in the box. A desperate Martins stepped squarely and heavily on top of Oscar’s foot, tripping Oscar, a clear penalty.

Japanese referee Iada Jumpei didn’t hesitate to bring out his yellow card. On Oscar. For simulation. It is the best argument you’ll see east of Belfast for Video Assisted Refereeing.

Finally, a Wei Shihao 74th minute header off a nice corner from Hulk hit the post.

Japanese referee overmatched

There were also a couple of well-situated Hulk free kicks, but the heartbeat of the SIPG attack missed all night — quite badly — on every shot he took. It was an unwelcome new wrinkle for SIPG. Not a new wrinkle: on a night in which whining was the second most common thing on the pitch (first was misdirected passes across the lumpy turf), Hulk got a yellow for complaining in the 60th minute, the only player on either team to be so singled out.

The choice of a Japanese referee might be something the CFA wants to reconsider. Besides the Hulk card and the terrible, match-altering call on Oscar, Shenhua took advantage of the naive Iada all night long: Li Yunqiu, Martins, Li Shuai and Moreno all faked dramatic fouls, trying to buy possession or time, and Martins even enticed Iada into giving Cai Huikang a yellow for a ghost tackle.

Shenhua’s dirty play, it turns out, matched the tone set before the match by their coach, Wu Jingui, who is on his fourth go-round as the Shenhua board’s designated clown. According to Titan Sports Media, Wu asked the CFA to extend AVB’s CSL suspension to the FA Cup matches. To the CFA’s credit — how often do you hear that? — they turned him down, but Wu’s sleazy lack of professionalism and dignity should earn him a shunning from every coach in China.

Looking ahead

SIPG has found themselves behind in the FA Cup before, 3-0 to Quanjian after the first leg in Tianjin. They won the return match at the Stadium 4-0. Panic is unlikely for the Red Eagles.

An ominous note for Shenhua: Moreno was pulled in the 90th minute and was spotted thereafter with ice on his knee.

Interested observers: If Shenhua can complete this upset, Hebei CFFC is out of the Asian Champion’s League, SIPG will have an ACL play-in match at Shanghai Stadium in January, probably against a third- or fourth-place Thai side, and Quanjian will likely face Brisbane Roar in another play-in. An SIPG comeback means Quanjian likely gets that Thai side and Hebei is in and likely gets Brisbane.

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

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