This is your WEF home for all things Shanghai SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe wrap-ups three matches – Beijing Guo’an in the Cup, and Renhe and Quanjian in the CSL – as SIPG rides the football rollercoaster in the mid-summer heat.
Downhearted at the Stadium
It was the kind of match that can short-circuit an entire season: last week’s FA Cup quarter-final second leg, 120 minutes contested at Shanghai Stadium on a night so hot and humid that it barely qualified as fit for human habitation, ending with SIPG going out of the Cup on the barest of all possible margins: 5-4 on penalty kicks.
It came down to Elkeson, barely used this year by SIPG manager Vitor Pereira, but pressed into action against Beijing Guo’an because of Hulk’s suspension for yellow card accumulation. The CSL veteran missed three golden opportunities. He hit the post early in the first half, but the really painful ones came late in the second half, when a goal would have salted away the match for SIPG. Magnificent passes first from Wu Lei, then Lue Wenjun, sent him in alone twice on Guo’an keeper Guo Quango. Elkeson missed both times.
Elkeson then became the only player to miss his kick in the penalty shootout when his shot straight up the gut hit the crossbar.
Augusto in the 94th
It was a magnificent match for SIPG up until the 94th minute, their best defensive effort in several years. They smothered high-flying Guo’an almost completely and got two goals, a gorgeous strike from Yu Hai on a loose ball and a rare SIPG set-piece goal, a free kick from Oscar to Cai Huikang, who converted a header in traffic.
Those two goals put SIPG up 3-2 on aggregate, and even with the Elkeson failures, the Red Eagles looked like they were headed through until a foul in the fourth minute of extra time at the end of the match gave Augusto a free kick from 22 meters. Elkeson’s compatriot swung the ball around the right side of a poorly positioned wall, SIPG keeper Yan Junling broke the wrong way, and Guo’an had their aggregate equalizer.
Thirty minutes of extra time from two spent teams produced nothing of consequence, and the penalty kicks were something of an anti-climax: neither keeper came close to making a save, no kicker looked daunted.
The loss left SIPG mentally and physically exhausted, facing a CSL match three days later in Beijing against Renhe, and then another four days after that at the Stadium against Quanjian, with SIPG already eliminated from the Champion’s League and now the Cup, and knocked off their perch at the top of the CSL.
It was an excellent opportunity to fold.
Instead, Pereira, for the first time all season, did some creative mixing and matching with his line-ups and watched grinning as SIPG simply destroyed two decent CSL sides.
In Beijing, Elkeson, Cai Huikang, Wang Shenchao (who was sent to the ground by Guo’an repeatedly) and Yu Hai all sat out, replaced by Hulk, Lin Chuangyi, Zhang Wei and former starter Fu Huan.
The result was a a 5-1 dismantling of mid-table Renhe, with two goals from Oscar and one each from Wu Lei, He Guan and Lei Wenjie. It was the first goal ever for the 21-year-old midfielder Lei Wenjie, who came on in the 86th minute, and He Guan’s first goal in the CSL in almost a year.
Pereira wasn’t done changing it up: four night later, with Quanjian in town, Pereira restored Wang, Yu and Cai to the line-up, but gave Uzbeki marvel Ahkmedov the night off. With Chen Binbin departed for national U23 team duty in Indonesia, Lei Wenjie took both Ahkmedov’s midfield slot and Chen’s U23 slot. That opened up the line-up for Elkeson to join Wu Lei and Hulk up top, something that happened quite a bit in the Champion’s League but, because of CSL rules limiting foreigners, is a rarity in the domestic league.
Elkeson got SIPG on the scoreboard in the twelfth minute, capping off an SIPG onslaught with a header on a nifty pass from Cai Huikang. A very nice goal from Alexandre Pato got Quanjian level a few minutes later, but that turned on the SIPG switch. After that, it was all SIPG all the time.
One minute after Pato’s goal, Yu Hai found himself alone with the ball deep on the left side and four SIPG players to choose from in front of the goal. He picked the only one who was marked, and his pass was deflected away, but sadly for Quanjian, it landed on Hulk’s boot. Hulk didn’t miss.
Pereira doubles down
Pereira had another move in him. Up 2-1 at halftime, he counterintuitively decided that SIPG would lean into attacking, and Lue Wenjun came on for Lei Wenjie, giving SIPG, in essence, four attackers plus Oscar.
It took a grand total of 15 seconds for the move to pay off. With Quanjian kicking off, Elkeson stole a pass, found Wu Lei at the top of the box, Wu one-timed the ball to a streaking Oscar, who used his left foot with aplomb and just like that it was 3-1.
(It’s got to be one of the fastest goals from the start of play in history when the other team kicks off.)
Seven minutes later, Wu stole a pass, found Oscar on the left side, and Oscar cut back against the grain and around two Quanjian defenders and then buried a kick in the left-hand corner of the net.
Oscar, who is running away from the field in the race for player-of-the-year in the CSL, now has nine goals and eleven assists.
From Oscar’s post-Quanjian match Twitter feed.
Four minutes after Oscar’s brace, Wu Lei took a pass at midfield and rocketed past Quanjian defender Wang Jie like he was standing still, going in alone on keeper Zhang Lu. Wang Jie brought him down from behind in the box, earning a yellow and somehow avoiding a red from infamous referee Ma Ning, but there wasn’t much arguing when Ma pointed at the spot.
With a 4-1 SIPG lead, and Wu being the player who’d been brought down, and with Pereira certainly aware of Wu’s position at the top of the league in scoring, Pereira asked Hulk to stand down and let Wu take the PK.
He did, but Wu’s shot went soaring well over the crossbar.
Despite the miss, Quanjian knew they were beaten, and both sides began subbing early on another hot and humid night at the Stadium.
A trap game if ever there was one: on Sunday, playing their fourth match in fifteen days, SIPG will travel to Dalian to play the relegation-bound team to which they administered a historic, 8-0 beatdown on the first match day of the season — and with the derby at the Stadium against Shenhua the weekend after that.
The Evergrande match, postponed by an abundance of caution over an approaching tyhoon, has been rescheduled for September 18, midweek between a trip to Tianjin to play TEDA and a home match against Changchun.
With the PK miss, Wu Lei’s lead in the race for the Golden Boot has shrunk to one goal over Fuli’s inexorable Eran Zahavi. The good news for Wu is that SIPG’s next two opponents, Dalian and Shenhua, feature two of the worst defenses in the league.
SIPG is, for the moment, in second place, one point behind Shandong, but with a game in hand.