This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. Today, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a critical 2-1 victory at Shanghai Stadium against Guo’an and SIPG taking care of business in the ACL.
In the span of 90 minutes on a rainy Sunday night in Shanghai, SIPG upended the CSL title race. A 2-1 victory over previously perfect Beijing Guo’an vaulted the Red Eagles back to within two points of Guo’an and arguably made SIPG the favorite to repeat as league champions.
The victory came, as have so many in the last few weeks, courtesy of Oscar. At 28’, Hulk mesmerized Nico Yanneris and Wang Gang, dancing and then slipping a pass between the two defenders and into the box to Oscar, who took it, made a move that left defensive midfielder Chi Zhongguo flailing on the turf and put the ball past Guo’an’s red-hot keeper, Zou Dehai.
SIPG’s second goal was courtesy of an Oscar free kick at 78’ that sussed out Cai Huikang sneaking in behind the Guo’an defensive line. Cai leapt and nailed a header that gave Zou no chance.
The goals were the demarcation line of what was really two matches. Before and after the SIPG goals, the match mostly belonged to SIPG. Between them, Guo’an carried the play. SIPG was the winner because Guo’an were only able to convert their stretch of dominance into one goal, a 58’ Chi Zhongguo shot that was destined for Yan Junling’s mitts until it got redirected by a Yu Dabao header.
(Yu figured late in the match too; in the 92nd minute, he hit the post, and Wang Shenchao blocked Wang Gang’s putback attempt on the rebound.)
The victory leaves SIPG with 28 points. Despite all the injuries — Hulk, Wang Shenchao, Yu Hai, He Guan, Shi Ke, Lyu Wenjun — SIPG is now five points ahead of where they were last year after 11 matches in their championship season. They have seven wins and a draw in their last eight matches, they appear to have weathered their early-season malaise and in the next couple of weeks, they will field, for the first time this year, a full-strength squad. They are right on the heels of a Guo’an squad that has no chance to replicate the point harvest of their first 11 matches.
There was bitterness from both sides Sunday night over the performance of New Zealand referee Matthew Conger. The match was played at a very high emotional pitch, with a lot of rough tackles that Conger ignored, but two calls in particular got attention.
For the Guo’an side, Conger whistled down a gorgeous through ball, errantly ruling Yuning Zhang offside. Conger’s best practice on something so close would have been to let the play develop and then check later with VAR, but once he’d blown the whistle, Guo’an had nothing to appeal. In fairness, a goal might not have resulted if Conger had handled the play properly: SIPG keeper Yan Junling read the play and forced Yuning Zhang well wide of the goal
SIPG had a complaint too: in the 55’ minute, a brutal, full-speed tackle from behind by Wang Gang on Hulk — all-calf, no-ball — left the Brazilian writhing on the pitch. Conger inexplicably gave Wang a yellow rather than a straight red.
Conger was also inadvertently involved in the match’s sole moment of hilarity, when Renato Augusto bumped into him and went down clutching his head in agony. After Augusto realized that he’d bumped into Conger, not an SIPG player, healing was instantaneous.
An FA Cup match Wednesday night at Shanghai Stadium against Jilin Baijia, match time 18:00. Hulk, Elkeson, Oscar and Akhmedov will be spectators, as per Chinese football rules when a CSL side takes on a League 2 outfit.
Sunday, SIPG travels to Dalian, site of one of the most memorable SIPG matches last season. The stage setter was opening night in Shanghai, an 8-0 humiliation of a Dalian side that was newly promoted and fecklessly signed a foreign contingent a couple of days before the match. Dalian was hell-bent on redemption in the return match up north and played SIPG as tough as anyone did all season, winning 1-0.
Odds and Ends
Chinese media is speculating that the surprise rehire of Marcello Lippi as national team coach may have included an understanding between Lippi and the OAS that additions to the national team via naturalization will be fast-tracked. And that one of the beneficiaries may be Elkeson, who is in his seventh season in China. If true, that would make SIPG the big, big winners in the naturalization sweepstakes.
The possibility of a new passport for Elkeson probably didn’t cause him to miss an easy chip twenty seconds in to the second half against Guo’an. But it’s a ball he puts in the back of the net nineteen times out of twenty.
Shi Ke and Lyu Wenjun are both apparently on the verge of returning to the line-up.
That could mean the end of Vitor Pereira’s eccentric formation and line-up choices, none weirder than the decision Sunday night to give 25-year-old midfielder Yang Shiyuan his first start for the Red Eagles since 2016. He’s back in town after being loaned out to Suzhou Dongwu and Yanbian Funde. As with practically everything Pereira does lately, rolling the dice with Yang paid off as he played a solid match in the midfield. Even Pereira’s continued insistence on giving minutes to Zhang Wei yielded dividends; Zhang was much better Sunday night than his default setting of worthless.
SIPG into ACL knockout rounds
As predicted in this space, Ulsan Hyundai showed up at Shanghai Stadium last Tuesday for the last match of Group H in the Champion’s League with a line-up of reserves. The Korean side had already clinched first-place in the group and faced K-League matches on the Saturday before and after the match in Shanghai.
SIPG, needing a win to advance, played their regular squad, albeit without the still rehabbing Hulk, and the result was an Oscar hat trick and a 5-0 win over a group of Ulsan kids who never seriously threatened.
SIPG’s next assignment in the ACL is in the first knock-out round, where they’ll face Jeonbuk Motors June 19 at Shanghai Stadium and June 26 in Jeonju, South Korea.
The last time SIPG and Jeonbuk met was in the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACL. The two played three scoreless halves in a row, then Jeonbuk scored five goals in the second half in Jeonju to knock out the Red Eagles. Jeonbuk won the whole thing that year, beating UAE side Al-Ain in the finals.
Two other Chinese sides advanced out of their ACL groups, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shandong Luneng. They’ll face each other in the first knockout round. Beijing Guo’an was eliminated from the tournament, losing to Urawa 3-0 in Tokyo last Tuesday and ending up third in Group G.
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