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Another fruitless week for SIPG, this time against two other struggling teams, Kashima and Guizhou - Wild East Football
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Another fruitless week for SIPG, this time against two other struggling teams, Kashima and Guizhou

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at another frustrating week for the boys in red.

If it weren’t for bad news, there’d be no news at all

Following a dire, 3-1 loss in Kashima in the Champion’s League on Wednesday, the Red Eagles flew out to Guiyang this weekend to face last-place Guizhou and drew 1-1 in a match that was not an advertisement for Chinese football.

SIPG now has two wins, two draws and three losses in their last seven matches, during which they’ve allowed four more goals than they’ve scored. They face imminent elimination in the ACL. In the CSL, the Guizhou match improbably left SIPG still atop the league despite now having dropped ten points in their last four matches.

Altitude sickness

Guizhou’s troubles on the pitch this year notwithstanding, Guiyang is one of the toughest place in the league to play. It’s nearly 1,300 meters above sea level and SIPG was already gasping for air after 12 matches in 44 days in four countries and three different competitions. 

And, of course, SIPG was playing without Hulk, whose leg injury, it is reported, will keep him out until June. Elkeson replaced Hulk, and coach Vitor Pereira chose to rest Cai Huikang and Shi Ke in Guiyang, replacing them with the seldom used Zhang Yi and Zhang Wei. 

It didn’t take long for Pereira to get punished for trying to get a little rest for his top defenders. On fifteen minutes, Zhang Yi and He Guan watched a corner kick sail directly between them. They probably spent the flight back to Shanghai arguing over which one of them should have moved over to mark Mario Suarez, but in real time, no one did and the Spaniard did not miss his golden opportunity.

(Set plays would be a problem for SIPG. Guizhou repeatedly threatened on corners and free kicks while otherwise living up to their reputation as the worst side in the CSL by failing to put together anything worth noting in open play.) 

SIPG leveled with a 32nd-minute return of their early season elán, Oscar putting a perfectly timed and weighted pass through two defenders to a streaking Wu Lei, who finished nicely with his left foot. It was a world class goal.

The second half deteriorated into a slog between one team that just didn’t have the energy to put anything together (SIPG) and another that didn’t have the ability (Guizhou). 

The match ended up being all about a foul and a handball in the box, one that resulted in a penalty kick, one that didn’t.

The foul came when Wild East Football podcast idol and fetish object Bubacarr “Steve” Trawally lost control of the ball in the box, then ran into Chen Binbin from behind, going down ever so dramatically as he did. Referee Guan Xing called a foul was on Chen — who may or may not have even known that Steve was behind him — then compounded the error by refusing to use VAR to verify his call.

Trawally took the penalty, shooting low and hard to his right. Yan Junling guessed that way and made the save while completely horizontal. Even more impressively, Yan sprang to his feet almost instantly and made a second, spectacular point-blank save on the rebound.

In the 77th minute, a ball deflecting in front of the SIPG goal hit Cai Huikang, who’d come on with twenty minutes left. It may have hit Cai’s arm, drawn tight against Cai’s chest, or it may have struck his other arm, which was away from the play and whipping around as Cai turned. It may have missed both. Guan didn’t award a penalty, but after getting shoved around by contingents from both SIPG and Guizhou, decided to grant VAR. The three-man VAR crew, including one foreigner, upheld the referee’s call. 

That’s how the match ended, the only other action of note a red card for Zhang Wei in the 91st minute. He’ll miss SIPG’s next match, and probably the next twenty or thirty after that, too, judging from his performance in Guiyang.

(Earlier, 19-year-old Chen, who plays with both the exuberance and discipline of a golden retriever puppy, was lucky to avoid a red near the end of the first half. He picked up a deserved yellow in the 42nd minute, then shoved a player to the ground less than a minute later, drawing a long look from Guan.)

Highlights:

The draw may have saved the job of Guizhou coach Gregorio Marzano, he of the glass half-empty countenance, Trumpian combover and bags under his eyes so big he has to pay extra when he flies.

Yu Hai has a bad, no good, terrible night in Japan

The injured Hulk made the trip to Japan to watch his teammates face Kashima in the first leg of their Champion’s League Round-of-16 match-up, and Oscar started, although he wore a wrap around his head to protect the head injury (a cut, apparently not a concussion) sustained the previous week against Beijing Renhe.

Kashima’s first goal resulted from a ball squirting unpredictably out of a scrum of players on a corner, but the last two were directly preventable by Yu Hai. In the 48th minute, Yu, Akhmedov and Elkeson all had a whack at a mediocre corner and failed to clear it. The ball finally dropped at the feet of Suzuki Yuma for an easy tap in. In the 75th minute, Yu, scrambling to recover his defensive position, attempted a headed clearance back against the grain of play and managed only to beat Yan for an own goal.

To be fair, Yu gaveth, too: some nifty footwork in traffic by Yu and his resulting pass opened up an easy goal for Elkeson and got SIPG on the board in the 77th minute, probably keeping alive the team’s chances in the Champion’s League.

It’s a tough result, because SIPG dominated Kashima, which has injury problems of their own and is off to a terrible start in the J-League. Oscar was the victim of some spectacular goalkeeping by Kwon Sun-Tae in the 9th minute and Wu Lei missed two chances, whacking the post in the 73rd and missing a wide open shot in the 93rd.

Highlights:

Fu Huan will criticize himself

News came down on Friday that SIPG defender and former starter Fu Huan has been fined and told to engage in written self-criticism over his judgement in criticizing referees and SIPG fans during and after a reserve match.

What’s next for the staggering Red Eagles

First up is a Wednesday clash at the Stadium against Kashima Antlers. SIPG has to win by at least two to have any chance to advance in the Champion’s League. Without Hulk, it looks like a Herculean task. The weather forecast is for a high of 36 degrees.

Sunday, Jiangsu Suning comes to town in The Other Yangtze Delta Derby. Jiangsu probably can’t hope to match their Yangtze beatdown of Shenhua, 5-1 on April 17, but they’ve also only lost one match in the CSL since mid-March and a win would put Jiangsu, which spent most of last year fighting relegation, squarely in the mix for a spot at the top of the league. 

The Jiangsu match brings with it a sigh of relief for SIPG: an end to a stretch of 14 matches in 52 days.

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

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