This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. Today, Jeff Beresford-Howe — @JRBHowe on twitter — looks on in horror as SIPG’s worst fears are realized.
Fans got a football match in three acts on a rainy Saturday night at Shanghai Stadium, but by the time it ended, most of them probably felt like they were watching a revival of Our American Cousin. (You’ve got the internet. Look it up.)
A 2-1 loss to Guo’an is the least of it. A grim reality now faces SIPG: their chances in the Asian Champion’s League and the CSL are in jeopardy.
The buzz in the stands before the match was already a little dark. It focused on the absence of Oscar, victim of a nasty blow to the head on Wednesday night against Renhe in the Cup. It’s Oscar’s second time in his career missing matches because of a head injury — the first was in Spring, 2015 when he was with Chelsea — and if it’s a concussion, well, the science is clear now that every concussion is worse than the previous one, and he’ll likely miss a substantial amount of time.
Elkeson was Oscar’s understudy, and despite a couple of good Guo’an chances turned away by SIPG’s Yan Junling — now very obviously the best keeper in the league — SIPG dominated. In the 28th minute, Hulk picked up a loose ball, approached the Guo’an goal from the left side, drew five Guo’an defenders and then found Elkeson all by his lonesome in the middle. No one would expect him to miss such an easy chance, and he didn’t.
Yan made a fabulous save on a breakaway by Guo’an’s Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu in the 38th minute and Guo’an fans would have been forgiven for thinking that it was their last, best chance, but then in the 41st minute, everything changed.
Hulk, moving the ball down the right sideline, tried to put on a burst of speed on the wet grass and instead pulled up clutching his right hamstring. He limped off the field immediately, never to return. Best case: he tweaked it and, exercising caution on a sloppy track, he took himself out and he’ll be back next week. Moderate case: he pulled it and he’ll be back sometime around the World Cup break. Worst case: it’s torn and he’s out for the season.
That’s the future. In the moment, reacting to Hulk going down, SIPG deflated. They played their worst fifteen minutes of this or any recent season, conceding easy goals to Piao Cheng and Bakambu and looking utterly listless.
The Bakambu goal in the 51st minute seemed to wake the Red Eagles up and they actually dominated play for the last 35 minutes. Wu Lei missed several chances and was twice offside in the most costly possible way: the first negated an SIPG goal, the second an added-time penalty that would have been awarded for a Guo’an handball in the area.
Lue Wenjun, Hulk’s understudy, and Elkeson also had good chances go by the wayside in what became an increasingly agitated match as time-wasting Guo’an players began to fall to the pitch, writhing in agony every time a breeze passed by.
This created the extraordinary spectacle of Dutch referee Pol van Boekel simply ignoring any Guo’an player who went down in the last 20 minutes or so and rather forcefully urging SIPG to play on. van Boekel, normally a referee in the Eredivisie, also wasn’t afraid to add a bunch of extra time to penalize Guo’an’s shamelessness. Beijing may have won the match, but you can’t say they did it with honor.
This is the season of What Now?
Hulk is, to quote the great Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink. The name of the game for SIPG now is survival until he returns.
As SIPG prepares for their Champion’s League matches against Kashima the next two Wednesdays (first in Japan, then in Shanghai), they face the possibility of playing without their two best players, and, because of CFA restrictions on foreigners in China, no available quality replacements.
It’s going to be a real test of Vitor Pereira as a coach. He’s got to rally the players he has left and the team’s going to have to play a much more conservative style. SIPG can’t afford the one or two big defensive mistakes they seem to make week after week. A draw in Japan would be a huge boon for the Red Eagles.
SIPG has two CSL matches before the break: May 12 in Guiyang against CSL bottom feeder Guizhou Zhicheng, and May 20 at the Stadium against Jiangsu Suning. Despite dropping eight of the last nine points in the CSL, SIPG is actually still in first place, and will remain there this week if Shandong loses or draws in the capitol against Renhe.
SIPG has two matches lined up during the break: a friendly against Portugal’s Sporting CP and an FA Cup match at Gongti against Guo’an. The former looks a lot less interesting if Hulk and Oscar can’t play. The latter is the first of a two-leg match, the second of which comes in July; SIPG’s job will be accomplished if they don’t get routed.
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