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Drawn and quartered in Guangzhou: SIPG nearly out of CSL race

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at the repurcussions of SIPG’s fourth straight draw.

SIPG’s chances to repeat as CSL champion are teetering on a cliff.

They waltzed up to the precipice last Saturday in Guangzhou, escorted by a Fuli side playing with passion and energy but without their star striker Eran Zahavi. Providing the boutonnier was referee Ma Ning, whose incompetence is a black eye for Chinese football.

The 2-2 draw at Yuexiushan Stadium, SIPG’s fourth straight one-point night in the CSL, left SIPG in third place, eight points back of Guangzhou Evergrande with eight matches to go. Evergrande faltered the next Wednesday at home against Chongqing while SIPG was dispatching TEDA at the Stadium, but the Red Eagles are still six points back with time running out.

Ma F*ing Ning

The match turned on three critical decisions by Ma, none remotely professional.

The first came after a flurry in front of the SIPG goal about halfway through the first half. The ball was cleared, play continued, and Ma called for a water break on a hot, muggy night.

The players and referees drank their waters and officially sponsored sugar drinks with electrolytes, hung out for a couple of minutes, then, just as play was about to resume, Ma waved them away and decided to review the play in front of the SIPG goal.

Hand ball! Fuli lines up for a penalty kick, but SIPG doesn’t. They’re adamant about – something. Here’s where we note that the CSL’s refusal to supply replays or make stadium announcements leaves the fans who’ve actually paid for their tickets the least informed people on the planet in these situations.

After about five more minutes of players milling around and arguing, Ma calls a halt again, for another review. Offside, before the hand ball! No penalty kick!

Yeah, the decision went SIPG’s way, and replays after the match showed that in the end, Ma got it right, but the decision highlighted (a) the lack of professionalism and centralized standards for VAR in China and (b) Ma’s shaky control of the match, which deteriorated throughout the night. Not to mention that the match was delayed more than ten minutes.

The second Ma failure came with the score 1-0 Fuli halfway through the second half.

Defending in the box, Fuli’s Ye Chugui kicked SIPG’s Arnautovic in the shoulder, studs first. Ye missed Arnautovoic’s head by a whisker, which is more down to Arnautovic’s quick reactions than any mercy on Ye’s part. It was an obvious foul that gave SIPG a penalty kick. (Which Arnautovic converted.) Mysteriously, though, Ma failed to give Ye a card for dangerous play. A yellow was certainly called for, and a red would have been reasonable.

Ma had one more trick up his sleeve

With SIPG ahead 2-1, Ma called for seven minutes of added time at the end of the second half. A generous amount of time, to be sure, but defensible.

What’s not defensible is what happened after that seventh minute. With the ball ricocheting around the middle of the pitch in the eighth extra minute, and no delays having taken place during extra time, Ma either lost track of time or simply refused to blow his whistle.

It would be wrong to say that SIPG quit, but their urgency flagged as they anticipated the whistle. Fuli’s urgency did not. A long pass from Zhen Zhizhao to Dusko Tosic in front of the SIPG goal and a neat turn and dribble gave Tosic a clear look look at the goal. He didn’t miss and SIPG’s CSL season was on life support.

Immediately after the goal, Ma figuratively whacked his forehead, said “Oh yeah, the clock” and blew the whistle to conclude the match.

SIPG’s goals

Arnautovic’s penalty kick after the foul on Ye Chuqiu was shocking, a screamer to the upper left hand corner of the net. Fuli keeper Cheng Yulei guessed correctly on his dive, but to no avail. There isn’t a keeper on the planet who could have stopped it.

SIPG’s second goal came in the 78th minute after Oscar hit the post. The rebound landed on Hu Jinghang’s foot. Hu, a late sub, scuffed the shot in front of a wide open net, but got just enough of it for it to trickle in.

Odds and ends

Hulk wasn’t available for the match. He also missed Wednesday’s match at home against TEDA. The latest intelligence is that he’s also going to miss the FA Cup match at the Stadium against Shandong, but be in the line-up when Urawa Red Diamonds comes to town in the ACL on Aug. 27.

Chen Binbin got another start in the back. In a season in which the Henan native’s development seems to have gone backwards, Chen is only getting minutes now because of the U23 rule.

Not having him up top helps SIPG’s offense stay smooth, but Chen hasn’t been in asset defensively, either. Manager Vitor Pereira yanked him shortly after Fuli’s first goal in the sixty-first minute. Chen also missed an absolute sitter from nine yards out in the 37th minute which would have given SIPG the lead.

The scoreless first half was partly the result of dueling spectacular saves by Yan Junling and Cheng Yuelei towards the end of that stanza.

Defender He Guan had an awful game. It was his handball that caused the first half refereeing meltdown, and he was behind the play on both Fuli goals, which went right through his defensive position.

The “last-minute” goal wouldn’t have mattered if Oscar hadn’t gotten cute in front of the vacated Fuli net in the 91st minute. He tried an artful little tap instead of pushing it into the net with authority. He somehow got under the ball and knocked it over the crossbar from a couple of yards out, his finesse costing SIPG an insurmountable 3-1 lead.

Most of the away fans and the SIPG squad itself were trapped in Guangzhou after the match by typhoon-inspired air and rail shutdowns in Shanghai over the weekend. It’s an odd experience being delayed by the weather when it’s blue skies where you are.


Road tripping

Seeing a match at Yuexiushan Stadium may be the best road trip in the league.

There’s the city of Guangzhou, every bit a first tier joint, and the neighborhood around the stadium is charming and full of bars, restaurants and street life. The stadium itself is actually carved into Yuexiu Park, one of the most beautiful urban parks in the country.

Built more than 100 years ago and renovated to hold 18,000 people, Yuexiushan has quaint and idiosyncratic architecture and, because of a very steep rake in the seating areas, spectacular views of the pitch.

The only down side for visitors is that the visitor’s entrance is at the top of the hill in the park. It’s a long, steep hike to get there, so give yourself plenty of time. There’s a reward when you’re done: ice cold beer is available before you go in.

(Also, cheers to the Shanghai BATS fan group, which was waiting for fans in red at the top of the hill with personalized cups of cold water.)

A note of caution. Yuexiushan Stadium is, to put it bluntly, a deathtrap. Almost everybody except visiting supporters comes in and goes out through one exit at the bottom of the hill. There are plenty of other gates scattered around the stadium, but they’re locked. A disaster or a panic, like the one in the 1950s at a National Day event, will result in a stampede and casualties. It’s very hard to understand why this hasn’t been corrected by local authorities.

And about those steeply-raked seats: there no handrails at all in the visitor’s section. Be careful, especially if you’ve been drinking.

Speaking of which, a good place to pass extra typhoon time in Guangzhou: a speakeasy called Hope & Sesame (say it fast). Quirky cocktails, a quirky, but elegant space, and live jazz.

TEDA visits, loses 5-1, no one notices

On Wednesday night at the Stadium, a craptastic 1-1 first half, in which SIPG dodged two bullets in the form of Tianjin TEDA shots hitting the woodwork, yielded to a rout in the second half as SIPG put four more past beleaguered TEDA keeper Du Jia. Arnautovic, Cai Huikang and Akhmedov each got a goal and an assist, and Lyu Wenjun and Li Shenglong scored as well.

The crowd — announced as about 13,000 — was SIPG’s smallest of the year, excepting the weekday afternoon FA Cup match against a China League Two side.

Ominously, Arnautovic limped off the pitch in the 80th minute clutching his hamstring.

Manager Vitor Pereira’s latest Weird Line-up Trick was starting only two foreigners, Arnautovic and Oscar, and bringing on Akhmedov to start the second half. TEDA, perhaps in agreement over the lack of urgency in this match-up, also started only two foreigners.

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

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