This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at an SIPG-Shandong match with a finish that had to be seen to be believed.
We love football partly because of it’s cruelty. As the clock winds down, we exalt at heartless reversals of fortune that leave teams shattered, their hopes dashed and spirits crushed.
There aren’t many better examples of this than what happened at Shanghai Stadium on Sunday night, where in the span of a few moments in extra time, Shandong Luneng went from 2-1 winners to 2-1 losers. You could watch football for the rest of your life and never again see anything quite like it.
Past is prologue
The night began with what some heavy foreshadowing: both teams in disbelief, one side ecstatic, the other with their hands on their hips and sporting thousand-yard stares.
A minute in, Shandong and Chinese national team keeper Wang Dalai fired a kick from inside his box to just past midfield. It wasn’t particularly well taken. In fact, the only one anywhere near the ball when it landed was SIPG defender Zhang Wei.
But the hapless Zhang turned himself inside out with indecision and the ball glanced off him, somehow landing right in the path of streaking Shandong striker Roger Guedes. Zhang couldn’t have drawn it up any worse.
Guedes walked in alone on SIPG keeper Yan Junling and cooly buried the ball in the far corner of the net for a 1-0 Shandong lead.
It was a shock, but to their credit, SIPG shrugged it off. Over and over in the first half the defending champs threatened. Shandong’s game plan – using platoons of guys to make sure Hulk never had a moment’s peace – left space for multiple first half chances for Wang Shenchao and Yu Hai, but the SIPG defenders are not, alas, world-class finishers. The guys who are world class finishers, Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson, didn’t get a sniff of the goal. The Red Eagles went into halftime in control but still down 1-0.
A banished Wei is the spark plug
The second half mined much the same vein until the 70th minute, when Serbian referee Milorad Mazic gave SIPG U23 Wei Zhen an iffy yellow. Wei either hooked an arm and pulled a guy down, or the guy felt Wei and went down, dragging Wei with him.
Just one minute later, Wei and Liu Binbin went for a fifty-fifty ball bouncing a couple of feet above the turf. Wei got there first and made contact with the ball. Liu went down and began writhing in agony. Mazic, from 20 yards away, bought an acting job that wouldn’t get Liu a walk-on role in a high school play and gave Wei his second yellow in just over a minute, and with it a red.
Which turned out to be disastrous luck for Shandong. From the moment Wei left the pitch, a furiously affronted SIPG team played their most intense 30-minute stretch of the season.
Within three minutes, SIPG had their equalizer, Oscar to Li Shenglong to Elkeson for the goal as Shandong defenders lagged a half a beat behind each pass.
Even with a man advantage, the Jinan side spent most of their time on the defensive. They managed to fend off SIPG’s attacks, but couldn’t threaten themselves. A draw on a night you’ve been thoroughly outplayed on the road is no shame, and Shandong clung to it.
In the 95th minute, with the clock this close to expiration, and the score still tied, a bad Hulk free kick went straight into the wall and a long rebound bounced to Shandong’s Hao Junmin. Hao did some nifty dribbling on the right sideline, then spotted Guedes sprinting down a lane on the right. Hao hit Guedes in stride, Guedes crossed to Gil for an easy tap-in, and Shandong had their 2-1 victory.
But hold up. Mazic wasn’t sure. He went to VAR, and sure enough, Guedes was ever so slightly offside. The goal was waved off as Shandong begged for reconsideration.
One more twist of the knife
That was only the beginning of the agony for Shandong. Worse – much worse – came a minute later. An SIPG attack, no doubt the last of the match, was going nowhere when the ball popped up high in the air in the Shandong box. Hao Junmin, jostling with Elkeson, was trying to shove the SIPG attacker off the ball. As he did, Hao lost track of the ball, and when he shoved again, to his horror, he got the ball, not the Brazilian. Mazic caught it immediately, checked VAR to make sure, and awarded the penalty.
Hulk converted and just like that Shandong went from 2-1 winners to 2-1 losers.
Shandong is right back in Shanghai on Friday to take on Shenhua. We’re going to find out a lot about heir toughness when they take the pitch at Hongkou.
For SIPG, this is the kind of match that can leave a team thinking that Destiny is taking an interest in what they do.
Odds and ends
Guedes actually scored another goal, on a maneuver so fancy down near the goal line that he hypnotized teammate Jin Jingdao, who was left flat-footed and gawking directly in front of Yan Junling. When Guedes took his shot, Jin was both massively offside and obstructing Yan, so Mazic had to wave off what would have been one of the prettiest goals of the CSL season.
Yet more bad news on the injury front. Lyu Wenjun left the pitch early against Fuli. It turns out he has a broken arm and he’ll be out at least a month, leaving SIPG short of reliable options to join Hulk and Elkeson on the attack.
SIPG’s match against League 2 side Jilin Baijia is now scheduled for Wednesday, May 29 at the Stadium.
SIPG travels to Zhengzhou Friday night to take on Henan Jianye, a surprising eighth in the CSL, though that may say more about the depth of the CSL than it does about Henan.
Then the big one: Tuesday at Shanghai Stadium, Ulsan Hyundai comes to town for the last matchday of Group H in the ACL. The Korean side has already locked up top spot in the group, so it seems unlikely they’ll send their best collection of boys. An SIPG win clinches ACL advancement. A loss or a draw are good enough as long as Kawasaki Frontale doesn’t go to Australia and pick up a win against Sydney. If Kawasaki wins, SIPG must win to avoid getting knocked out.
Note bene: match-time is 18:00.
That SIPG is still alive in the ACL is courtesy of Hulk, who scored twice against Kawasaki in Tokyo last week to lead SIPG to a 2-2 draw against the Japanese powerhouse and put the Red Eagles in the driver’s seat for advancement. The first goal came after a spectacular dribble half the length of the field, the second on an athletic header after another great Oscar cross.
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