Well, that was worth the wait. After a couple of months talking about the CFA’s latest rule changes, the CSL exploded into life on Friday night. Fabio Cannovaro’s defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande got their fingers burnt by city rival R&F in a pulsating Canton derby. YN looks back on the game and previews the visit of Dalian Yifang.
Goal in sixty seconds
For the first game of 2018, Guangzhou R&F manager Dragan Stojković sent out a very similar starting XI to 2017. There were only two notable changes. Jiang Zhipeng’s departure meant Ding Haifeng started at left wing back, whilst Yi Teng took over as captain. The second change was a return to early 2017; Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso was back in the team after recovering from the injury which kept him out of the final third of last season.
Stojković wasn’t the only one picking up where he left of last year. It only took Israeli goal machine Eran Zahavi a minute to open his account for 2018. Ding Haifeng’s throw, Xiao Zhi’s header, a blistering half volley from Zahavi and 1-0 to R&F. He, and R&F, had their second before 10 minutes were up on the Tianhe Stadium clock but Ding Haifeng’s horrible back pass shortly afterwards changed the momentum of the game. Alan capitalised on the error to make it 1-2, equalised on a rebound from Goulart’s header, and completed his hat-trick to give Evergrande the lead just before half time.
The goals keep coming
The blues started the second half just as they’d begun the first. Zahvai’s goal a few minutes after the restart completed his own hat-trick to match Alan. At this point Zahavi and Alan decided to let someone else get on the scoresheet. Evergrande keeper Liu Dianzuo had a hand in that too, as he let Urso’s shot squirm through him to make it 4-3. An undeniable error by the former R&F reserve starting for Evergrande in Zeng Cheng’s absence.
What looked like an undeniable error by the referee, but was seemingly confirmed by video assistance, was awarding Evergrande a penalty for Li Tixiang’s half hearted brush of his arm against Zhang Linpeng. Goulart scored from the spot to make it 4-4 with twenty minutes to go.
After eight goals from foreigners, the ninth was scored by Chinese international Xiao Zhi. Captin Yi Teng found Tang Miao running into space, Tang whipped in a cross and Xiao’s header beat Liu at his near post. There was still time for Renatinho to squander a chance every bit as good as ones that Zhang Linpeng and Yu Hanchao had earlier missed for Evergrande, and for an Evergrande goal to be chalked off for handball.
What a way to start the season.
Substitutions and U23s
Friday night was the first chance to see Stojković’s approach to the new U23 rule. He started three foreigners – Zahavi, Renatinho, and Urso – but only one U23, centre back Huang Zhengyu. This meant R&F had to bring two U23s on from the bench and they waited right until the end to do so. Ma Junliang came on in the 87th minutesbefore Cai Haojian made his debut in the 90th.
R&F’s first substitution was also unusual. Just after Evergrande equalised to make it 4-4, new signing Ding was replaced by Lu Lin. Usually a midfielder, Lu played the final twenty minutes at left wing back. It will be interesting to see if Stojković uses Lu in this way as the season progresses.
New kid on the block – Cai Haojian
Cai is the latest U23 to get his chance in the CSL spotlight. Last year, he combined completing his degree at the South China University of Technology with playing amateur football for Zhaoqing Hengtai. This year, he’ll be juggling studying for his Masters degree with playing in the CSL.
Education is important to Cai. The Guangzhou native turned down an opportunity to enter Evergrande’s youth system as he wouldn’t have been able to go to university. He didn’t turn his back on football though. Cai, who earlier played on the same school team as Huang Zhengyu, represented Guangdong youth and then went onto captain the university team. He was big break came when he was spotted by Stojković when playing in a friendly for Zhaoqing against R&F’s reserves last year. A few months further on and he made his professional debut in the Canton derby at a packed Tianhe Stadium. Hopefully the midfielder will be given sufficient game time this season to continue his rapid rise.
R&F didn’t announce any last minute signings before the transfer window closed but there was one departure. Min Junlin who got so many U23 minutes on loan at Guizhou last season, moved back there on a permanent deal.
There were two good pieces of news for R&F fans though. Zahavi and Renatinho both signed three year contract extensions. After winning the CSL’s golden boot and MVP award in 2017, there were plenty of rumours linking Zahavi with a move to Tianjin Quanjian but R&F held out. The 30 year old Israeli has now committed his future to R&F.
What’s in a name? Dalian Yifang next at Yuexiushan
Dalian Yifang are Yuexiushan’s first visitors in 2018. The last time they played R&F they were called Dalian Aerbin and it seems they’ll be called Dalian Wanda by this time next year. This would be a technically different Dalian Wanda to the Dalian Wanda that dominated the early years of professionalism in China though. The original Dalian Wanda were sold and renamed Dalian Shide in the late ’90s before being disbanded at the end of the 2012 season after playing derby matches against Dalian Aerbin. China League One side Dalian Transcendence also claim successor status to Dalian Wanda/Shide. Confused? You’re not the only one. Dalian is far from the only Chinese city to have had teams renamed and disbanded though.
Wanda’s late investment meant that Dalian Yifang could afford to sign Carrasco and Gaitan, but didn’t have time to improve on the domestic players that won promotion to the CSL last year. That showed in Shanghai last weeked. Dalian were the fodder for SIPG’s considerable attacking cannons and went down 8-0. It would be an understatement to say that manager Ma Lin – who scored the goal that took China to the brink of qualifying for Italia’90 – has a lot of work to do this week. Stojković and Guangzhou R&F however, could hardly have asked for a better game to follow up the derby opener.