This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at SIPG remaining undefeated this season in both the CSL and the ACL.
Done and dusted
Group F of the Asian Champion’s League is history. With a 1-1 draw at the Stadium against Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday night, SIPG wins the group and advances to the Round of 16 against a second-place team from Group H.
In the knockout stages, we now know that SIPG will be accompanied in East Asia by Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk, Quanjian, and Kashima Antlers. Evergrande remains in a dogfight in Group G and Shenhua, winless now in 15 straight ACL matches dating back to 2009, blew a 2-0 lead at Hongkou Stadium on Tuesday night and was eliminated in Group H.
The Kawasaki match was, to be sure, not a scintillating night at the Stadium. Chances for both sides were few and far between. The trademark SIPG razzle-dazzle made only one appearance. In the 69th minute, Oscar carved up the right side of the Frontale defense, fed Hulk all alone at the side of the box, and Hulk made a precision pass to a streaking Elkeson in the middle, who slotted it easily into the net. It was Elkeson’s third goal in five ACL matches.
The Japanese side, eliminated from the tournament earlier in the evening by Ulsan’s 6-2 victory over Melbourne Victory, managed an equalizer in the 75th minute. A cross found not one, not two, but three players looking for a header against one SIPG defender. Chinen Kei got there first and picked up the goal.
it was Frontale’s only good chance of the night, though they did manage one other near goal: an astonishing, tenth minute laser from about 35 yards out by Yoshiko Okubo. Yan Junling made a leaping save to avoid spending the next eight months watching himself on goal-of-the-year highlight reels.
Meanwhile, Hulk’s erratic performances on free kicks continued. In the twenty-fifth minute, Akhmedov got whacked in the box and the referee, a fellow Uzbek, (fairly) awarded SIPG a penalty. Hulk’s kick from the spot went sailing well over the crossbar.
Vitor Pereira went with his regular ACL starting line-up, with the exception of Fu Huan giving Wang Shenchao the night off in the back, but that will not be the case in Melbourne on April 18, a dead rubber for both teams. Coming mid-week between CSL home matches against Hebei and TEDA, it would be surprising if any of Shanghai’s regular players (except Elkeson) get on the plane for the ten-and-a-half hour flight.
Match highlights, such as they are:
Play it again, Chongqing
It was an unseasonably warm night at the stadium last Saturday, and the fans who showed up in t-shirts and shorts witnessed a weird one.
Chongqing got things started at the 15-minute mark when midfielder Yang Ke, looking the wrong way and clearly surprised that a corner kick had come his direction, stuck out his foot and accidentally directed the ball into the SIPG net.
The lead stood up for all of 100 seconds, when Akhmedov dribbled around a flat-footed Chongqing left flank and cut a gorgeous pass back against the grain of play to Wu, who had nothing more to do than tap the ball in.
Wu had four golden opportunities on the night, nailing this easiest one, missing the net on two other occasions and serving as the victim of a gorgeous save by Chongqing keeper Sui Weijie. One goal in four great chances is Wu being Wu; maybe his goal-production problem with the national team is that his Chinese national teammates can’t give him the overwhelming number of opportunities that Hulk, Oscar and Akhmedov provide for him.
A few minutes after Wu’s goal, a perfectly placed Oscar corner found Yu Hai at the near post, and the veteran glanced it neatly into the far side of the net.
The 2-1 lead stood up until the 84th minute, when a Chongqing equalizer was apparent to everyone in the stadium except the people who mattered most: the refereeing crew. They called the play offside, getting it wrong two ways. First, there was no offside: if you freeze the youtube highlight at 4:40, you can see that Chongqing’s Alan Kardec, who will receive a nifty pass and break in alone on Yan Junling, is about a yard onside. Second, referee Ma Ning blew his whistle in immediate support of the botched offside flag instead of relying on VAR to sort things out. Nothing that happens after a whistle blows is reviewable, so Chongqing were robbed of a goal and the one point that would have come with it.
It wasn’t Ma Ning’s last burst of incompetence; in the 86th minute, Akhmedov tapped Fernandinho Silva from behind and the Brazilian went down like someone had taken garden shears to his calf. Ma bought the act and red-carded Akhmedov, who will consequently miss SIPG’s always hotly anticipated trip this weekend to Zhengzhou to take on Henan Jianye. (Akhmedov’s misfortune will presumably net Elkeson his first CSL starting assignment of the year.)
SIPG is the only team in the CSL with four wins in four matches.
Odds and Ends
SIPG are now fifth in East Asia club rankings, according to footballdatabase.com, trailing Jeonbuk, Kashima Antlers, Evergrande and Frontale. The site’s algorithim weighs matches over the period of a year, but it’s worth noting that in the last six months of play, SIPG has gotten the better of both Frontale and Evergrande. The Red Eagles are the fastest rising team in the Top 30. Shenhua is ranked 82nd in Asia, just below Brisbane Roar.
Pereira’s contempt for the U23 rule is now plainly written in his substitution patterns: against Chongqing, he made his two mandated U23 substitutions in the 89th and 90th minutes. Chen Binbin was Pereira’s designated U23 starter for the second straight match.
Midweek in the second week of May, SIPG will travel to Japan (Kashima), South Korea (Suwon Samsung Bluewings) or Australia (Sydney FC) for the first leg of the Round of 16 in the ACL, then host the return leg in the third week. The matches will be part of a World Cup-runup stretch of nine matches in 32 days for SIPG in the CSL, ACL and FA Cup.
Only 21,657 turned up on a chilly Tomb Sweeping eve at the Stadium for the match against Frontale, and less than 20,000 on a delightful Saturday night against Chongqing.
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