This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. Today, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at the astonishing season opener.
“I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority.”
— Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham
When the 2018 CSL schedule came out a few minutes ago, SIPG-Dalian looked like a juicy opening night fixture. With SIPG’s success last year, and Wanda money newly but firmly behind Dalian, it lined up as one of the more intriguing matches of the early season.
It turned out it was a hard one to look away from – like rubberneckers watching a particularly horrific car crash on the freeway.
Saturday night at Shanghai Stadium, Dalian turned in both the worst debut and the most brutal loss in CSL history. 8-0 was the final — and it wasn’t that close.
Welcome to the CSL, Gaitan, Fonte and Ferreira-Carrasco, Wanda and Dalian Yifang. Bet this never happened at Atlético Madrid.
Oscar kick-started the party at Shanghai Stadium 30 seconds in, blasting in a rebound from 18 yards out. He added two more goals for a hat trick, and two great assists (both on long, deadly passes finished by Wu Lei, who got a hat trick of his own). It was the best match Oscar has played in SIPG red and maybe the best match of his life.
It is ominous indeed for the rest of the teams in the league if Oscar, at 26, is becoming the player everyone thought he might be.
Hulk got a goal and two assists. Notably, the new captain was also consistently the first SIPG player on the scene to congratulate the many goal-scorers for the Red Eagles.
SIPG took 22 shots, had two-thirds of the possession and could have had ten or eleven goals with some better shots from Wu Lei and Akhmedov and without one superlative save from otherwise shellshocked Dalian keeper Zhang Chong. SIPG’s back line and defensive midfielder Cai Huikang were impregnable. Dalian had no scoring chances all night. (SIPG has now played four matches in all competitions this year without yielding a goal in open play.) It was a thorough demolition of the nouveau riche side from Liaoning.
Dalian played like they’d just met each other, which, it turns out, was literally true: their foreign contingent saw each for the first time on Thursday in Shanghai as the team arrived to prepare for the match. But it wasn’t just the new foreigners: it was an unimaginably disorganized and heedless performance on defense, and their discouragement was palpable as the match progressed. It’s probably a bad look for the job security of their coach, Ma Lin, who for the time being is one of only four Chinese head coaches in the CSL.
VAR makes an appearance
The foul call that gave Hulk a penalty kick stopped the game for a couple of minutes in the first half as the CSL employed it’s new VAR technology. With Dalian already trailing 2-0, referee Guan Xing’s decision heavily curtailed Dalian’s chances to win and it seems reasonable to make sure it was the right call. (It was. VAR affirmed.)
The problem was that even though Shanghai Stadium has a big, pretty HD video board, that board inexplicably wasn’t used to show the play or tell the crowd what was happening. It is one of the mysteries of Chinese football: all around the world, in almost every sport, scoreboards inform and bring fans in tight on the action (Editor’s note – Keeping fans uninformed isn’t unique to China). In China: nothing. (In some countries and sports, the boards are only used when a replay support a referee’s decision, but that wasn’t a factor in this case.)
U23 rule a non-issue for SIPG
After all the noise about the CFA’s new U23 rule, it meant almost exactly nothing in this match.
Hu Jinghang was the designated U23 starter for SIPG, at forward, and he impressed. He fit nicely into the flow of the offense and picked up an assist on Oscar’s first goal.
Because SIPG started three foreigners — Hulk, Oscar and Akhmedov — coach Vitor Pereira was obligated to find a way to work in two more U23 players as the match developed, and while he didn’t quite fully extend his middle finger to the CFA, it was perhaps bent a little in that direction. Despite the walloping SIPG was delivering, Pereira didn’t bring either of his U23 subs (Chen Binbin and Zhang Huachen) subs on until the 80th minute, with SIPG already ahead 6-0.
Chen didn’t want to waste his chance: twice he stole the ball and followed with gorgeous passes, once across the box to Wu Lei to help complete Wu’s hat trick, and once down low to Hulk, who then found Lue Wenjun unmarked in the middle for an easy goal.
The only interesting thing about Zhang here is that he’s a defender, but when he came on to the field, it was as a midfielder because Pereira chose not to disturb his backline of Wang, He, Shi and Yu despite the insurmountable lead.
Dalian made both of their two U23 substitutions in the 66th minute.
It was a nearly full house (as defined by the Stadium authorities and the police) for Opening Night, but there were still some sections with empty rows. However, there were no tickets available at the box office on matchday. Instead, hundreds of touts outside the stadium offered discounts on real or fake match tickets; it seemed like the average was about 25% off face value.
Despite the long distance between the two cities, Dalian traveled brilliantly to Shanghai, packing the visitor’s section. They were in full throat long after the match was in any doubt. Credit to the Dalian faithful.
SIPG will ride the high into a Wednesday night match at the Stadium against Ulsan Hyundai in the Asian Champion’s League, then go to Hongkou to play the derby against battered and bruised Shenhua on Saturday night.