All but out of the Cup and pegged back again in the CSL, Guangzhou R&F’s struggles continue.
Guangzhou R&F 5 – 2 Changchun
After three tough losses, Guangzhou R&F fans finally had something to shout about: a 5-2 win over Changchun. Their team didn’t do it the easy way though. Ighalo opened the scoring for the visitors before Junior Urso, Tošić and Xiao Zhi scored before half time to make it 3-1. The open nature of the game continued in the second half and a Zahavi double secured a much needed win for the Cantonese. Thankfully Tan Long’s goal didn’t spark a comeback for Changchun this time.
Beijing Guoan 5 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
From the moment keeper Han Feng’s name appeared on the teamsheet, R&F fans had a sense of trepidation. Han is 34 and has played just over 100 first team games in his career, almost half of which were outside the CSL. Starting him in R&F’s biggest game of the season is a headscratcher. Why play a weaker goalkeeper in the semi final, especially one in which you’re guaranteed to be doing a lot of defending? Han may have been told he would play all of the Cup games, but surely the club should’ve shown the ambition to set that promise aside? If Han had to play at all, couldn’t he be given two CSL games – where R&F are now playing for pride rather than glory – and let first choice keeper Cheng Yuelei play the important Cup games?
Han aside, R&F put out a strong team at Gongti. They were competitive in the first half and level at the break. That didn’t last long though as Guoan poured on the goals in the second half, Han culpable for a couple. The Cantonese created enough chances for a second away goal but couldn’t take them. Instead, Guoan scored twice in the final ten minutes to effectively kill off the tie.
R&F need to score at least four goals in the second leg to go through. Whilst that isn’t inconceivable if everything clicks, keeping a clean sheet as well will be much harder. No wonder Stojković said in the post-match press conference that he was hoping for a miracle.
Jiangsu Suning 2 – 0 Guangzhou R&F
After losing in the current Chinese capital, R&F’s next game was in a former capital – Nanjing. Stojković was looking for a reaction after the midweek loss in Beijing but didn’t get one as it was Jiangsu who put aside their recent struggles to get the win. Cheng Yuelei, Jiang Jihong, Junior Urso, and Zhang Gong all came into the R&F starting line-up but couldn’t deliver a competitive performance going forward. R&F were on the back foot for the majority of the game which Jiangsu dominated without looking overly threatening.
It can’t be said that the Cantonese didn’t try though. The defence and Cheng in goal were just about holding Jiangsu at bay before Jiang Jihong went off injured. Having already made one sub, the tactical straightjacket of the U23 rule meant that midfielder Zhang Gong had to drop back to centre back to cover for Jiang, as neither of the U23 subs were defenders.
Ironically given all of Jiangsu’s pressure, their goals came from counterattacks. First, Renatinho gave the ball away, R&F’s defence backed off Teixeira as he advanced, and eventually Li Tixiang gave away a soft penalty. A dejected ring of players gathered around the referee to protest and give VAR plenty of time to intervene but there was no reprieve. Eder scored from the spot to give Jiangsu the lead.
The Cantonese attack finally, if all too briefly, woke up immediately after this but passes were again going astray before too long. Cheng Yuelei’s quick thinking saved R&F on a Jiangsu counter before poor defending let Teixeira in to score later in the move. It seemed impossible for anyone to look more frustrated than Zahavi, but Stojković managed it on the touchline.
New kids on the block
Since U23 centre back Huang Zhengyu was included in China’s longlist squad for the Asian Games, Stojković has tried some new U23s. Perhaps because Zhang Chenlong has been injured, U23 Chen Weiming is the latest to try and replace Jiang Zhipeng at left wing back. Chen has started six of the last seven games but been replaced before/at half time in five of them so hasn’t played that many minutes. With Chen starting, previous U23 starter Ma Junliang has been pushed back onto the bench. He’s been joined by new U23s Zhang Jiajie and Wang Peng as Stojković continues to rotate the token five minute cameo appearances around the younger squad members. Encouragingly, all of these U23s are from Guangzhou so at least local players are getting a chance.
33 year old Duško Tošić is at the other end of his career. He got on the scoresheet against Changchun but the Serbian centre back hasn’t been impressive as hoped. New teammates, a language barrier, having played a full calendar year without a break – he went from the Turkish season into the World Cup and then straight to China – and arriving in the heat and humidity of the Guangzhou summer won’t have helped him though. He has been rotated in and out of the starting line-up with Junior Urso and this will probably continue in September as the schedule stays busy after the break.
Glass half full?
With two thirds of the season gone, R&F are currently 12th – eight points above the relegation places – and, barring a miracle, out of the Cup. Since the CSL resumed post World Cup, the Cantonese have won two of nine league games and picked up eight points in total. With Dalian, Henan, Chongqing and Guizhou below them, R&F should avoid being dragged into a relegation battle but will have to string some wins together to be sure of this.
Taking a more optimistic viewpoint, Beijing Renhe in 6th only have two more points than R&F. If the Cantonese beat Tianjin next weekend they could find themselves back in the top half of the table. On current form that is a big if, but it does show that R&F have got a good chance to climb the table if they rediscover their form.
R&F host Tianjin TEDA on Saturday. TEDA’s weekend thumping by Guoan was their first loss in five games and they’re one of the teams just above R&F in the CSL. Tianjin won the first meeting between the sides this year so it should be a competitive game at Yuexiushan.