This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a thrilling win in Chongqing for SIPG while their title rivals fall flat on their face.
One more Saturday night
It was an evening that had SIPG fans grinning from ear to ear.
It started at 7:38 last Saturday night in Chongqing, three minutes into SIPG’s visit to the wartime capitol. An Oscar shot handcuffed Chongqing keeper Deng Xiaofei, who conveniently directed the rebound to Wu Lei’s right foot. Wu had an empty net in front of him and he didn’t miss.
As the evening unfolded, astonishing reports rolled in from Beijing and Guiyang that mid-table mediocrity Renhe and bottom-feeding Guizhou Zhicheng had broken out their whooping sticks early and often against Guo’an and Shandong. By halftime, the two had commanding leads against SIPG’s competitors for top dog in the CSL and gave SIPG a chance to pick up three points and go top of the table.
Meanwhile, the party rolled on in Chongqing. The first half would have been a rout were it not for a pair of misfires each by Elkeson and SIPG’s U23 designee Lei Wenjie.
Elkeson missed a free kick from just outside the box in the 18th minute, and, after yet another gorgeous Oscar pass, he somehow missed the net when he was left all alone with the ball in front of Deng in the 40th minute.
Lei mistimed his kick on a beautiful Hulk cross that should have resulted in a goal in the 28th minute, and in the 40th minute, another nice Hulk pass (and lovely Elkeson dummy) gave Lei a gloriously wide open net, but Lei’s first touch was clumsy and Deng closed on him and blocked his shot.
Oscar also nearly pulled off a rarity in the 33rd minute: a leaping Deng save narrowly averted the CSL’s top player putting the ball directly into the goal from a corner kick.
Chongqing escapes first half even
SIPG paid for their wastefulness when confusion in front of the SIPG net gave Fernandhino a garbage equalizer in extra time at the end of the first half.
The second half was a bit of a letdown, until the last 15 minutes, which turned into as crackling a sequence as the CSL has seen all year.
It started in the 80th minute, with the score still knotted at one and SIPG staring down the possibility of failing to capitalize on their opportunity. Wu made a run down the left side, getting nearly to the goal line before he was finally picked out with a very long pass from Yu Hai. Wu somehow headed the ball back across his body and against his own momentum, finding Lue directly in front of the goal. Lue calmly settled the pass and as two defenders closed on him, fired past a helpless Deng Xiaofei.
SIPG’s celebration lasted all of two minutes. Chongqing surged forward and as the ball ricocheted around a host of players right in front of SIPG keeper Yan Junling, they got a header that hit the post. The rebound found Chongqinq’s Brazilian forward Alan Kardec, who scuffed the ball, but managed to get the absolute bare minimum of contact required to trickle the ball a few centimeters past the goal line. (VAR confirmed that Yan was a fraction of a second late scooping it back out.)
This is the part where SIPG deflates and lets points escape their grasp, but that’s not how this party was destined to end.
As extra time ticked down, Hulk came up with the ball deep in the right corner, danced, attracted defenders like flies, and finally picked out Wu Lei streaking through the box on the left side. A cross that was as perfectly placed and as timed as you could ever hope to see gave Wu the header that put SIPG on top 3-2. It sent Vitor Pereira into uncharacteristic paroxysms of joy and changed the CSL title race.
Highlights (the second and third goals for SIPG are worth a look):
Wu, on fire, also had a brace against Fuli
The win followed a midweek 3-1 SIPG demolition of Guangzhou R&F at the Stadium, a match that also featured two Wu Lei goals and another from Lue Wenjun.
Wu now has 18 goals, two ahead of Fuli’s Zahavi in the race for the Golden Boot. He’ll be the first Chinese player to win it since 2007 if he makes it. He’s also a shoe-in, so to speak, for most goals by a Chinese player in 2018 — the sixth straight year he’ll have accomplished that feat. Wu will also very likely to break his own record of goals in a season by a Chinese player — 20, set last year.
Wu has a legit shot to break the record for most goals scored in a CSL season — 28, held by some guy named Elkeson, who was wearing an Evergrande uniform in 2014 when he did it.
Finally, Wu now has 93 goals in the CSL, the most by any player who’s ever worn a CSL-branded uniform.
Henan Jianye comes to the Stadium on Saturday night. The Zhengzhou side currently ranks 14th in the CSL, has lost three in a row and four of their last five. Anything but three points for SIPG in this one would be an unwelcome surprise.
September 1, just before one of the most pointless international breaks ever held, SIPG will travel to the outskirts of Beijing and take on Hebei, ninth in the league and possessor of zero wins against the league’s top five teams.
The end of the break will see the return of Chen Binbin and leave SIPG manager Vitor Pereira with a difficult decision. Lei Wenjie, also an U23, has looked a lot more dangerous then Chen, but Pereira’s preferred organizational structure means that if Lei is in the line-up, Elkeson plays, not Akhmedov. (If Chen plays, Elkeson sits.)
Elkeson may simply be rusty without ACL matches to keep him sharp, but his finishing has been poor for quite some time now.
Two other players are going to figure in Pereira’s decision.
The summer heat has exposed Cai Huikang; the midfielder has looked too fat and too slow to contribute as matches wear on, and it may be that Lei Wenjie could be useful in his stead.
And finally, there can’t be any doubt now that Wu’s best work comes when he’s on the left side. Pereira has insisted on playing Chen Binbin on the left when he’s available, with Wu on the right, and it’s made the left side of the field a dead zone for SIPG’s offense.