This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a side that was lucky and good.
You cursed the never-ending rain. You dumped your bike on the slick paint on the street, you watched black mold sprout on your apartment walls, you guffawed incredulously as the weather guy said this was the second rainiest winter in Shanghai history. “The second rainiest?”, you said to yourself. “If it rains more than this, I’ll need gills.”
But it was all worth it last Wednesday in SIPG’s first Champion’s League match of the year.
Outplayed by a quick, well-coached Kawasaki Frontale side, SIPG clung like grim death to a scoreless draw, mostly through the efforts of keeper Yan Junling. Three acrobatic saves kept SIPG alive. It’s the second time in three matches this year Yan’s been the key figure for SIPG.
Then the Rain Gods smiled on SIPG and intervened at the end to give the Red Eagles three points.
Throughout the match, players had been struggling for purchase on the waterlogged turf, but it hadn’t led to any decisive breaks until the 88th minute. Deep in the Kawasaki area on the right side, Fu Huan took a pass from Akhmedov. Fu saw Elkeson standing in the dead center of the box and tried to hit the Brazilian with a pass, but Fu couldn’t get any footing and topped the ball, sending it only a couple of yards.
Meanwhile, Kawasaki midfielder Hidemasa Morita, at first focused on Akhmedov, tried to change direction to catch up with Fu. Morita slipped and fell and began a long slide. Facing away from the play and desperate to regain his feet, Morita put out his left hand to try and arrest his slide and in the process inadvertently wrapped his arm around Fu’s scuffed pass and dragged it out of bounds.
It was a no-brainer penalty call for the UAE referee Mohamed Abdulla Hassan Mohd, but a heartbreaker for the Japanese side. Hulk calmly buried the penalty shot and SIPG walked off the soggy pitch a few seconds later with a 1-0 win and finished the night as the only team in Group H with three points. (Sydney and Ulsan Hyundai played to a scoreless draw in gale-force winds in Australia.)
A crackling start for SIPG against Jiangsu
With only two days off before Jiangsu came to town, and an emotional victory in the bag, SIPG could have been forgiven for a sluggish start on Saturday night, but instead got the opposite: a 2-0 lead after three minutes.
The scoring opened with a second minute own goal. An Oscar pass intended for Elkeson misfired, but sliding Jiangsu midfielder Wang Song had already reacted and made a desperation clearance that went straight past helpless keeper Gu Chao and into the back of the net.
A minute later, disaster for the Nanjing boys: Oscar found Lin Chuangyi cutting across the top of the box, and Lin made a perfect pass to the left wing, hitting Zhang Wei in stride, and the unmarked reserve defender tucked a nice shot inside the right post for his first CSL goal in six years in red.
As odd as those goals were, SIPG got a third, even more unlikely goal to close the first half. From 25 yards out, Lyu Wenjun struck a decent but not spectacular ball that magically worked it’s way through a cluster of nine players in blue and red in front of Gu Chao; the Jiangsu keeper, screened, didn’t make a move until the ball was practically past him. 3-0 SIPG.
Xie Pengfei singlehandedly narrows the gap
The relative placidity of the match – SIPG on autopilot with the commanding lead – did not last much past halftime. The 60s were a turbulent time. Jiangsu’s Xie Pengfei twice beat SIPG’s reserve central defenders for goals, at 65’ and 69’, to close the gap to one. On Xie’s second, striker Lyu Wenjun was the only player in red within 10 yards of Xie as he walked in alone on Yan. You don’t see defensive breakdowns much more spectacular than that.
SIPG regained it’s poise and closed out the match. Elkeson missed a golden chance from nine yards out in the 73rd minute and an 85th minute Jiangsu goal was negated by an obvious offside.
The CSL takes a three week break in order to… to… ah crap. Who knows why the CFA thought it would be spiffy to take a three-week break two weeks into the season. The next CSL match for SIPG is Saturday, March 30 at Hebei and the next home match is Friday, April 5 against Chongqing.
On Wednesday, SIPG travels to Korea to play Ulsan in the ACL.
Odds and Ends
Shi Ke sat out both games last week because of what looked like a hamstring injury sustained against Shenhua the week before, and He Guan had to come off the pitch in the eighth minute against Kawasaki with what also looked like a hamstring issue. He was unable to return against Jiangsu three days later. Wei Zhen and Fu Huan (back to the salt mines after a couple of matches in midfield) took their place.
Playing without both of their central defenders, SIPG still shut out Kawasaki, but things started to fall apart in the second half against Jiangsu. SIPG has not announced whether Shi or He will be able to play in Korea.
After the biggest attendance decline in the CSL in 2018, and an average of 21,631 fans/game, SIPG saw a slight uptick in announced attendance for last week’s matches at Shanghai Stadium. The rather fanciful crowd number for Kawasaki was 22,777, and 23,501 were in the house against Jiangsu.
SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande, Beijing Guo’an and newcomer Shenzhen are the four CSL clubs that won their first two league matches. Eight teams – half the league – didn’t win either of their first two.
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