This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at narrow escapes against Wuhan and Sydney.
Had it all the way
Dark clouds were gathering over Shanghai Stadium on Sunday night. After a scoreless first half against Wuhan Zall, the Red Eagles hadn’t led a match in 225 minutes. An iffy penalty got them a goal in the second half for a lead – finally – which it took them all of eight minutes to blow.
Tied 1-1 after ninety minutes, SIPG was in danger of dropping points to bottom-feeders for the third time in nine days. Their title hopes in both the CSL and the ACL looked like a pipe dream.
Then, a crespuscle at the stadium. Ninety-fourth minute. Hulk is at midfield, loosely surrounded by Wuhan defenders. He pivots and sees Elkeson, ahead and leaking out to the left side, stutter-stepping to stay onside. Hulk snaps a perfectly placed and weighted pass which his countryman takes a half-step ahead of the last defender.
But the job isn’t done: Elkeson’s run into the box is taking him from right to left, on an angle away from the goal. He has only a fraction of a second before the angle becomes too acute and the defender closes him out. Without hesitating, Elkeson whacks a sizzling left-footer against the grain that beats Wuhan keeper Dong Chunyu’s desperate dive by inches and sneaks inside the post, also by inches. It was the kind of accuracy and creativity in a high-pressure situation that teams site when they explain why experienced strikers make the big bucks.
It gave SIPG a 2-1 victory, allowing the local side to close the gap with Guangzhou Evergrande, which lost in Beijing to Renhe 2-1, and remain three points behind Guo’an, which beat Henan 2-1 at Gongti.
Sleepless in Shanghai
Despite the scoreline, SIPG fans finished the night unsettled. There were some decent chances in the first half, and the defense, without Shi Ke (coach’s decision?) and Wang Shenchao (still injured), managed to avoid the yawning chasms in the middle that have led to so many goals allowed in the last couple of weeks.
But if you stripped the signifiers from the uniforms, for most of the match, you’d have been hard-pressed to say which side was the defending CSL champion and which was newly promoted.
Nothing quite sums up where SIPG is at during this stretch as a second half cross headed to Lyu Wenjun for what he thought was an easy tap-in goal. But Zhang Wei was thinking the same thing, and the two, unmarked by anyone except each other, collided, blowing the chance.
A night in the Outback
Zhang Wei’s cock-up against Wuhan was proceeded five days earlier by a much bigger one in Sydney. He botched a third-minute clearance header, directing the ball from the middle of the box to Dutch international Siem de Jong’s foot at the top of the box. Zhang then compounded the error by letting de Jong dribble around him like he wasn’t there and de Jong’s shot deflected in against a helpless Yan Junling.
That set an early tone for the Matchday Three Champion’s league fixture: Sydney would score, and a few minutes later, SIPG would strike back. Three times it happened.
It was the kind of night on which Yan Junling’s best save of the match, and one of his best saves of the season, on a point-blank shot by Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad, resulted in a goal anyway. After Yan’s spectacular, diving save, no one on SIPG was there to clear the rebound and it was tapped in by late sub Alex Brosque.
That goal left Sydney up 3-2. SIPG salvaged points late in this one too. A 90th minute break was led by Oscar, who found Hulk on the left side about five yards out. Sydney keeper Andrew Redmayne had the angle covered, but Hulk wound up and blasted one inside the upper corner on the near side. There isn’t a keeper on the planet who could have stopped it.
(Oscar had another assist, on a magnificent header by Lyu Wenjun for SIPG’s first goal.)
Despite the draw in the far reaches of suburban Sydney at what looked like a glorified high school stadium, SIPG remains in the driver’s seat for ACL knockout qualification. They’re at 4 points in the group, in second place, with home matches remaining against Ulsan and Sydney and a trip to Tokyo for Kawasaki Frontale. If they win those home matches, it’s almost certain that they’ll advance.
Trips to Tianjin on Friday (to play Tianhai) and a week from Sunday (to play Teda) sandwich an Asian Champions League match at Shanghai Stadium at 19:30 on Tuesday the 23rd against Sydney.
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