On Wednesday night Guangzhou R&F beat Beijing Renhe 4-1 to record their first victory in six CSL games. The Wednesday before, R&F beat Jiangsu Suning 3-2 to make it into the CFA Cup semi-finals.
CFA Cup: Guangzhou R&F 3 – 2 Jiangsu Suning
Guangzhou R&F have played four times since the last edition of YN. The most significant game was the CFA Cup quarter final win over Jiangsu. Visitors Jiangsu took the lead but a Zhang Chenlong lob from a seemingly impossible angle pulled R&F level, before Zahavi put R&F ahead. Jiangsu equalised in the second half and were set to go through on away goals with the score at 2-2 heading into stoppage time. There was a twist in the tail though. Li Tixiang tangled with Jiangsu’s Zhou Yun in the box and a penalty was awarded via VAR. Zahavi kept his cool and thumped his spot kick home. 3-2 to R&F and a tie against Beijing Guoan in the semi-finals in September to look forward to.
A win and two draws in the CSL
Results in the CSL have been more mixed, although the win over Beijing Renhe finally snapped R&F’s winless streak in the league.
The weekend prior to the CFA Cup, a last minute header from Junior Urso saw R&F snatch a point in 1-1 draw with Guizhou. It was one of those days in front of goal for the Cantonese as the ball just wouldn’t go in. Despite the last minute equaliser, this was probably closer to a two points dropped scenario rather than a point gained. After all, it was only the third time Guizhou had avoided defeat all season.
After their cup heroics, R&F then travelled up to Langfang and held on for a 2-2 draw with Hebei. The Cantonese went 2-0 up after 36 minutes but poor defending from a cross just before half time and equally poor defending from a second half corner let Hebei equalise. Hebei continued to press in the second half but this time R&F held out and there were no late goals for either side.
The last time Guangzhou R&F played Renhe, their opponents were based in Guiyang and called Guizhou Renhe. The sides drew 2-2 on that day in 2015, Aaron Samuel Olanare scoring twice for the Cantonese. In 2018, R&F notched up a 4-1 win. It wasn’t a comfortable start though as R&F old boy Zhu Baojie’s pass outflanked the Cantonese defence, allowing Benjamin Moukandjo to put Renhe 1-0 up. Their lead didn’t last long. Chen Zhizhao and Rentinho both scored to give R&F the lead before half-time. Zahavi added a third and Lu Lin wrapped things up with his first goal in the CSL this year.
With such a high number of games in a short period of time, Stojković has been forced to rotate his squad. Including the CFA Cup, only Zahavi has started all five post World Cup games, whilst Yi Teng and Tang Miao have started four each. The versatility of Li Tixiang and Chen Zhizhao has been important. Li has played in both defence and midfield, with Chen playing in midfield and in a more attacking role. New defensive signing Tosic has tended to play when the U23 starter has been Ma Junliang in midfield, whilst Urso has played when the U23 has been Huang Zhengyu at centre back.
This pattern has been broken though with Huang Zhengyu’s call up to China’s Asian Games squad. Presumably Ma Junliang can look forward to more game time as a result. After making his first ever CSL start against Renhe – even if he only played for 30 minutes – perhaps Chen Weiming will also appear in the starting line-up again.
Thoughts at halfway
R&F are 6th in the table at the halfway point of the CSL, seven points back from Beijing Guoan in third. This is a good return on a relative lack of investment in the squad over winter. However, R&F will have to do much better than their recent run of form if they’re to close the gap which is slowly beginning to open between them and the top teams. The next four fixtures do not look too promising for doing this. Games against Dalian and Changchun are balanced by matches against Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG. Because of this, the cup semi-final against Guoan could be the crucial point of the second half of R&F’s season.
On Sunday R&F will host Evergrande at Yuexiushan for the second Canton derby of the season. Evergrande have been flying since the CSL restarted – thumping both Guizhou and Chongqing – whilst R&F have been treading water. Having already gone out of the CFA Cup and had their match against SIPG postponed, Evergrande have also played less games which may give them another advantage in what is sure to be an energy sapping match in the Guangzhou summer. However, to adapt a cliché, anything can happen in a Canton derby. And it usually does.