What a difference a fortnight makes. After an apologetic letter issued by the club, the Cantonese have now won four in a row to move themselves up to sixth in the table and into the CFA Cup quarter finals. Time for a look back at a hectic couple of weeks.
The tide began to turn with a victory in the CFA Cup. R&F beat amateur side Wuhan Chufeng Heli 2-0 on a Tuesday afternoon. The Cantonese weren’t allowed to play any foreigners but goals from Lu Lin and Xiao Zhi saw them safely though.
The following week the domestic players flew straight from Chongqing after the CSL game to Shenyang for the next round of the cup. The foreign contingent again weren’t involved as Shenyang Urban are a China League Two club. Shenyang beat Henan in the previous rounds and another upset was on the cards after 12 minutes when ex-R&F defender Xu Bo scored a rare goal to put Shenyang in front. Xu Bo was a one club man for the first ten years of his career but, in a quirk of Chinese football, his club moved city three times before Xu left them; starting in Shenyang, before moving to Changhsa, Shenzhen briefly, and then Guangzhou in 2011.
Getting back to the present day, Shenyang almost went into the break with a 1-0 lead but Zhang Jiaqi capped his first R&F start with a goal on the stroke of half time. Captain Lu Lin grabbed the winner in the second half as the Cantonese won 2-1.
Chongqing 0 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
In between the two cup wins, R&F got their CSL campaign back on track with a win in Chongqing. The big pre-game news was that Huang Zhengyu had been dropped. Since making his first starts for R&F at the end of the 2016 season, no U23 had made more starts or played more minutes in the CSL than Huang. Although R&F’s defensive woes were clearly not all Huang’s fault, the young centre back was made to pay for his mistakes by being put on the bench.
The U23 rule meant that a reshuffle was required. Jiang Jihong replaced Huang, whilst Chen Zhizhao had to be dropped to make way for another U23; midfielder Ma Junliang got his first start of the season. In a more straightforward move, Ding Haifeng was dropped for the second time in his short R&F career, this time for Lu Lin.
The Cantonese started brightly and put pressure on Chongqing but, when it arrived, the goal came from a counter attack. Urso’s interception started a move that ended with Renatinho heading the only goal of the game. Chongqing had the upper hand for much of the rest of the game but R&F held on for a valuable win and a rare clean sheet.
Guangzhou R&F 4 – 2 Shanghai Shenhua
A few weeks ago the joke was that the gaps in both the R&F and Shenhua defences could be seen from space. Neither side did much to dispel that notion on Saturday at Yuexiushan. Shenhua were already 2-0 down when Li Xiaoming was sent off and were three behind at the break. The Shanghainese came back into the game though and caused problems for R&F’s own fragile defence in the second half.
Two pieces of skill from Renatinho brought R&F’s opening goals – for U23 Ma Junliang and Zahavi – before Shenhua keeper Li Shuai failed to keep out the Brazilian’s long range effort. Worryingly for Stojković though, Renatinho pulled up injured at the beginning of the second half.
A 3-0 home lead with a man advantage should’ve meant that it was game over. It wasn’t. Cheng Yuelei let a Shenhua freekick squirm through him and over the line as the 10 men clawed one back with 30 minutes left. Cheng didn’t cover himself with glory for Shenhua’s second either, but then he had a right to expect Li Tixiang to actually compete for the ball in the air instead of just jumping in the general vicinity of the ball. Chang Feiya’s late strike from the corner of the box made it 4-2 and eased any lingering Cantonese jitters.
In other news
Ma Junliang’s early goal against Shenhua was not only his first for R&F, it also makes the Guangzhou born 20 year old the youngest ever Chinese player to score for the club. He isn’t the club’s youngest ever scorer though. That honour goes to former forward Aaron Samuel Olanare, currently playing in Russia.
R&F’s Hong Kong side may be set to finish 7th in the HK Premier League but the owners have other sporting prizes on their mind. Guangzhou R&F Properties is listed on the HK stock exchange and is one of three consortia bidding for the tender of Hong Kong’s new HK$32bn Kai Tak Sports Park. How convenient that the R&F name is already known in Hong Kong sporting circles…
In other contract related news, both men who have captained Guangzhou R&F this season have signed new deals. Cantonese hero Lu Lin (33 years old) will stay at the club until the end of 2020, whilst centre back Yi Teng (28) extended his contract until the end of 2022.
The Cantonese have three more games before the World Cup break. First up is a trip to the capital to play Beijing Guoan. R&F have never won at Gongti and after the men in green beat SIPG in Shanghai last weekend, it will take some R&F performance to overturn that record. The Cantonese host Henan a week later and also face Jiangsu Suning in the CFA Cup quarter final first leg. If Renatinho’s injury keeps him out of these games, it will be interesting to see if Stojković brings in Marko Perović – who hasn’t exactly been tearing up the reserve league – or goes with just two foreigners and thus only two U23s. All will be revealed under the Friday night lights in Beijing.