Beijing Guoan opened up their season Friday night with a hard fought 1-0 win at Wuhan Zall. The side many have tipped to win the league certainly had their struggles against newly promoted Wuhan, but Roger Schmidt will be happy the Men in Green came away unscathed.
Here are some quick takes on Guoan’s season opener.
Kim Min-jae: Going into the season the club’s biggest concerns was the status of the defense. Last season it was the side’s weakest link made all the worse at the start of this year due to a number of injuries. The big Korean made his club debut on Friday and was a beast. He showed speed that I didn’t expect him to have, made crucial stops, and even helped clean up his own mistake (a bad pass that led to Wuhan’s best scoring opportunity). He also was a threat on set pieces, all around he proved his worth and Guoan fans are excited about his presence.
Zou Dehai: Another winter signing, probably the addition to the side that most flew under the radar, Zou made his debut much earlier than expected with Hou Sen out injured and Guo Quanbo off with the U23 team and he was excellent. Zou’s shut out debut wasn’t without threat, however he was able to make a number of quality saves throughout the night.
Set pieces: It was an area where Guoan excelled at last season and it looks like that trend will continue this year. The combination of Jonathan Viera and Renato Augusto is sure to make a lot of CSL keepers quake and Friday night they showed why. Viera threatened on a free kick, but it was Augusto’s free kick goal that made the difference.
Offense: To shore up the defense Guoan needed to play Kim and that meant Cedric Bakambu was left watching from the stands. With the CFA’s controversial decision (how many times will those words be combined this year?) regarding naturalized players, John Hou Saeter was also watching from the stands and so the attack fell on the shoulders of new signing Zhang Yuning. While the youngster put in a decent performance, he showed signs of rust and the offense was missing the spark that Bakambu would have provided. Schmidt’s options to make a change were also limited and it took Augusto’s magic to save things for Guoan.
The vendetta: Okay, full disclosure, I don’t want to put Wuhan fans under “the bad”, they showed up in large number for their team’s return to the top flight and to open a new stadium despite a rain storm, impressive. However, many still harbor a grudge against Guoan for an incident that occurred between the sides in 2008 and that led to what fans saw as “unfair” punishments of their team, causing the owner to withdraw the team from the league. Guoan doesn’t get a lot of love in most cities, but it seems like Wuhan’s anger would be better targeted at the CFA.
CFA’s decision on naturalized players: Leave it to the CFA to make an important decision the day before a match. Their decision to hold off on allowing naturalized players to count as local players for the first two rounds reaches new levels of irrationality and certainly impacted Guoan, who were planning on using Hou Saeter and likely also a newly registered Nico Yennaris.
The weather: The match took place in an utter downpour that played a significant role in proceedings. The water logged, chewed up pitch slowed things down and while I didn’t expect this to be a high scoring match, it made things even harder.