“Yan Junling giveth, and Yan Junling taketh away. Praise the name of Yan Junling.”
- Job 1:21, more or less
After a magnificent February and March, the best keeper in the CSL – the best player in the CSL – fell flat on his face to start April.
Yan Junling was joined in misery by his teammates Friday night at Shanghai Stadium. SIPG may or may not be the best team in the CSL, but the Red Eaqles proved that no team in the league can turn it on for just 15 minutes and expect to walk away with points.
It all added up to the most surprising result of the young season, Chongqing beating the defending champs 3-2, SIPG’s first loss at home in the CSL in almost a year.
The beatdown was deserved
SIPG came out of the gate flat and uninspired and stayed that way for most of the match, as though they expected that all they had to do was throw their uniforms out on the pitch to get a result. Chongqing, in case you needed reminding, avoided relegation last year by the tiniest of margins and had one victory in their first three matches this year. (That came against newly promoted Shenzhen.) They have a manager, Jordi Cruyff, who’s never coached before. Ever.
But for the first 45 minutes, Chongqing was obviously the better side and they were rewarded – twice. As was the case for SIPG against Jiangsu, it was huge, inexplicable chasms in the central defense that resulted in goals.
A simple give-and-go found a massive hole in the middle of the SIPG defense in the 30th minute. Whether it was Shi Ke or He Guan who was out of position can be debated, but one of them was. There can not be debate about what happened nine minutes later, when Shi Ke backed off a ball angled deep in the box – a ball within his reach – and gave Fernandinho a free look at the goal. The Brazilian converted with a nifty left footer.
Pereira provides a kick in the ass?
If the start of the second half is any indication, SIPG’s locker room is going to need a new paint job, because SIPG manager Vitor Pereira’s halftime speech likely caused the old one to blister and peel.
SIPG came out and swarmed Chongqing. Elkeson had a couple of decent chances on headers, Lyu Wenjun converted a header after a gorgeous cross from Chen Binbin, and Hulk tied it up at 2-2 with The Most Hulk Goal Ever, a shot so fierce it might have carried Chongqing keeper Sui Weijie into the back of the net if he’d managed to get in front of it.
As it was, Sui barely moved even though Hulk’s shot was from about 35 yards out. Despite the distance, you can’t blame Sui. Hulk’s shot simply wasn’t in the universe of things keepers worry about.
All of this was in the first 15 minutes of the half, taking the score to 2-2, and it was hard to imagine that Chongqing could hang on. But SIPG’s intensity waned after the Hulk goal, eventually ending up about where it spent most of the first half, and optimism began to slowly leak out of the home fans. As added time began, the match was still level.
With one minute left in added time, a long pass found Chongqing substitute defender Mawlanyaz Dilmurat onside and open behind the SIPG defense. Open, yes, but the pass led Mawlanyaz all the way to the goal line on the edge of the box. Bizarrely, SIPG keeper Yan Junling had drifted a couple of yards out from the left goalpost, and Mawlanyaz – give him credit for being alert enough on the dead run to notice it – tried to sneak the ball inside the vacated post. Mawlanyaz’s ball wasn’t quite as accurate as he wanted but Yan was so far out of position that his dive back to block the ball knocked it into the net, giving Chongqing a 3-2 victory.
The official scorer uncharitably called it an own goal by Yan, costing the stout, 20-year-old defender Mawlanyaz, who played in Xinjiang last year, his first professional goal.
No player has been more responsible for SIPG’s hot start this year than Yan, so this was an absolute gut punch. It’s probably the worst goal he’s allowed in his career, and it left SIPG stuck on nine points, three behind Beijing Guo’an and Evergrande.
Of course: early days. Last year, SIPG lost a match in May to the eventually-relegated Changchun, and that story had a happy ending.
New star new start
Shanghai Stadium had a new wrinkle: the words “New Star New Start” spelled out on the seats in the upper part of the upper deck on the east side of the stadium. The old star is Wu Lei. No idea who the “new star” is.
You could read the message because of a new, awful seating plan: the club closed off the upper part of the upper deck, including a lot of good mid-field seats. Many who went up top to save some money ended up seated towards the goal lines with a lousy view.
Odds and ends
The match began with a moment of silence in memory of the thirty firefighters who lost their lives on the job last week in Sichuan, not all that far from Chongqing.
Wang Shenchao, who is nursing some kind of injury, didn’t play against Chongqing. Fu Huan took his place. Akhmedov was the odd foreigner out, and Chen Binbin got his first U23 start this year and his sixth assist overall in an SIPG uniform.
Li Shenglong came on for Fu at halftime, an attacker for a defender. SIPG’s offense once again notably improved after that swap, and at not much cost: Chongqing didn’t produce any good chances in the second half.
SIPG will be leaving for Sydney and a Champion’s League match on Wednesday. Sydney FC, nursing a one-point lead for second place in the Aussie league, has a critical match against third-place Melbourne Victory three days before they face SIPG.
The Red Eagles return to face Wuhan Zall at the Stadium on Sunday, April 14. While SIPG will be playing their third match in ten days, Wuhan will be playing their first match in two weeks after the postponement of a home match this weekend due to incompetent groundskeeping.
Latest soccer scores info. Football results, table & fixtures being loaded.