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SIPG, in a thriller, advances past Jeonbuk to ACL quarters

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week: it doesn’t get much better than walking onto the home turf of one of Asia’s greatest teams and stealing a victory in the Champion’s League.

Best match in SIPG history? That’s easy: last year’s back-and-forth CSL spectacular at Tianhe, the 5-4 victory over Evergrande that gave SIPG it’s first CSL championship.

But Wednesday night’s Champion’s League Round of 16 match-up in Jeonju, South Korea – the second leg for SIPG and Jeonbuk Motors – was it’s near equal. It was an absolute thriller that ended with penalties after 120 minutes of 1-1 football. When Oscar’s kick from the spot flew through the rain, just inside the left post and into the back of the net, SIPG had an insurmountable 5-3 lead in the shootout and will live to play another day in the Champion’s League.

Three halves?

It was a game with three halves: Jeonbuk dominated the first, SIPG the second, and Jeonbuk the overtime. Along the way, nothing but drama:

Hulk hit the post twice and the crossbar once, the last one in the 122nd minute. To add to the pain, both Wang Shenchao and Oscar had absolute sitters on the rebounds from the two post shots and missed them badly. It was the kind of thing that makes you say, “Well, hell, it was just not meant to be.

Jeonbuk’s goal, in the 27th minute, was surpassingly weird. A bad pass from Oscar — how often does that happen?— and a couple of nifty little passes from Jeonbuk put the ball in SIPG’s box. No worries, though: SIPG has seven defenders back in position.

The problem is, they’re all literally standing still. As Jeonbuk makes three passes, not one of the defenders takes even a step. The worst were Zhang Wei and Shi Ke, who were within a half a yard of Moon Seon-min and could have shut the whole thing down, and Wei Zhen, who let Kim Shin-Wook come all the way around him and beat him to the pass that Kim, who is very good and very tall, then put past Yan Junling.

Iranian referee Alireza Faghani was a center of attention all night long, almost all of it in a very bad, no good, aw crap kind of way. He missed a Jeonbuk handball that should have given SIPG a spot kick. He missed the ball going out of bounds on the Oscar pass to Elkeson which led directly to Hulk’s goal. (For unknown reasons, there was no VAR available.)

Faghani allowed Hulk and Jeonbuk’s Brazilian striker Ricardo to get fouled – roughly fouled – all night long without making calls. (Faghani has done this before with Hulk.) In general, Faghani didn’t react to increasingly rough play on both sides.

By the end of the match, both sides were frustrated and angry, and when Li Shenglong dragged Moon Seon-Min down in the 124th minute and Moon came up swinging, both benches emptied and the match was moments away from a full-on brawl.

Moon ended up with a red, Li a yellow.

A furious SIPG assault on the Jeonbuk net lasting almost all the second half yielded chance after chance, but as they repeatedly came up short, SIPG’s energy began to flag. In the 80th minute, Oscar spotted Elkeson going backdoor, but his pass led Elkeson past the end touchline. Elkeson didn’t hear a whistle and kept playing, heading the ball back to Hulk, who took a half-swing and drove the ball into the turf, where it hit a defender and deflected past disbelieving Jeonbuk keeper Song Beom-keun. It was maybe SIPG’s tenth best chance to score that evening. It should have been whistled down, but instead: 1-1 with ten minutes to go.

In overtime, SIPG got progressively less and less energetic. By the last 10 minutes, Red Eagle fans were left with nothing to do but cover their eyes as Jeonbuk sent the ball in on the SIPG goal over and over again. Massively against the run of play, though, the best chance was SIPG’s: Hulk stole the ball at midfield in extra time of extra time and broke in more or less unmolested on Lee. If the crossbar was about an inch higher…

Enter Yan Junling

Yan made a couple of good saves in regulation time, but it was three he made after that which were the difference in this match. The first two were down to his great reaction time. The last victimized 40-year-old Lee Dong-Gook in Jeonbuk’s first kick of the shootout. Lee’s shot was headed into the lower left hand corner when a diving Yan stretched out with his right hand and knocked it aside, the only save either keeper made in the shootout.

(Some what-ifs for Jeonbuk: Lee might have taken a turn anyway, but the red to Moon meant they couldn’t use one of their best scorers, and Jeonbuk didn’t utilize their last substitution, leaving Australian striker Ibini-Isei, who started the first leg in Shanghai, on the bench for the shootout.)

For SIPG, the five men who stepped up and scored in the shootout: Hulk, Elkeson, Akhmedov, Wang and Oscar, in that order.


Odds and ends

With Yu Hai not making the trip to Korea after getting injured against Renhe the previous weekend and Cai Huikang on the bench after getting victimized repeatedly by Jeonbuk’s quickness in the first leg in Shanghai, Pereira went with Zhang Wei and Yang Shiyuan in the starting line-up for the second leg. Yang appears to be a new favorite of Pereira’s.

Perhaps ominously for Cai’s future, as the match wound down, an exhausted, cramping Zhang had to come out and Pereira need a new defender. He ignored Cai, instead making perhaps the oddest line-up choice he’s made since taking over as SIPG manager: diminutive striker Chen Binbin on the backline.

(To be fair, Cai finally did make it on to the pitch — in the 118th minute.)

It’s another mid-season rules change in the CSL. Beginning with the July 6 match at Shanghai Stadium against Shenhua, SIPG will be allowed to have all four of their foreigners active for a match, although the limit on the pitch at any one time remains three. Also, the U23 has been tweaked. Again. Only one U23 is now required, but there must be an U23 on the pitch at all times.

In the CSL, after a tough 2-0 loss at the Stadium to Evergrande, dropping SIPG five points behind Guo’an (which continues to win all of it’s CSL matches not played against teams called “Red Eagles”), SIPG rested Hulk, played a flat first half, then brushed aside Beijing Renhe, 3-0.

SIPG had 30 points after 14 CSL matches last year on their way to their first championship; this year, they’re at 34.

What’s next

SIPG no sooner gets back to Shanghai from their exhausting slog to Jeonju than they have to head to the boondocks of fetid Shenzhen for a CSL match-up on Sunday at Shenzhen University Sports Center, 30 km outside the city. The good news: Shenzhen have racked up six points in their last twelve CSL matches and have lost four of their last five, including defeats at the hands of Henan, Wuhan and Dalian.

The ACL is beginning its traditional summer break. There will be an early July draw, sans seeding and country protection, for the quarterfinal match-ups. SIPG will face either Evergrande, Urawa Reds or Kashima Antlers.

The matches will take place near the end of August (smack dab in the middle of a month-long CSL “international break”) and mid-September.

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

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