There were double celebrations for Guangzhou R&F on Friday in Beijing. Their CSL status was formally confirmed for 2020, and Zahavi scored his 29th goal of the campaign to break Elkeson’s record.
Hebei 2 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
It’s difficult to feel cheated about a last minute loss in a game where you’ve given up 30 shots. From a Cantonese perspective then, the main positive was that Zahavi equalled the single season goal scoring record. In truth, he could’ve had a hat trick.
Few people will have emerged in credit from the Monday morning video analysis sessions after this game. Both defences gave up plenty of chances – as often because of poor defence as good attack – and both sides failed to put them away. Cheng Yuelei was just about the only player to come away with any credit, especially after his early penalty save from Mascherano. Even Cheng couldn’t stop Marcão’s powerful header though. It might have helped if Yi Teng had actually tried to win the header instead of just pushing the Brazilian. Sadly, Yi is not the first R&F player to make that decision this year.
Still, it looked like the Cantonese would escape with a draw but it wasn’t to be. Jin Pengxiang’s poor run of form continued as his push in the back led to a VAR awarded penalty which, after a retake, Marcão scored.
The game was also notable for Tan Chun Lok becoming the first Hong Konger to play for Guangzhou R&F. Already a Hong Kong international, Tan was signed mid-season last year and immediately loaned to R&F’s sister team in the Hong Kong league. The 23 year old has now linked up with the CSL team.
The Chinese sleeping tablet industry must be grateful for Eran Zahavi. Without their tablets, managers across China would have sleepless nights wondering how to contain him. Defenders and goalkeepers would have nightmares when they inevitably failed. Even Guangzhou R&F fans would be kept awake by the memories of his goals.
Those fans have more goals to remember this year than any set of fans ever have before. When Zahavi scored early in the second half to grab his 29th of the season, he broke the record for the most goals scored in a season since Chinese football went professional. He’s scored 29 goals in just 25 games.
In 2014, Elkeson banged in 28 goals in 28 games for Guangzhou Evergrande to set the record. Zahavi’s 27 goals in 2017 fell just short of breaking it, but he tied the record with a goal against Hebei last week. A breakaway goal against Beijing Renhe means the record is now his.
The 29 goals almost defy categorisation. He’s scored with both feet and his head. Zahavi’s cracked them in from 30 yards, but has the penalty box instinct to be in the right place at the right time for scrappier goals. He’s also scored some spectacular goals – that rabona against Tianjin Tianhai springs to mind.
He’s also been helped by the sheer weight of chances his teammates have created for him. Unsurprisingly, Stojkovic sees Zahavi as R&F’s main attacking threat so sets the team up to support the Israeli, with both wing backs pushing forward. It still takes skill to finish the chances though. Zahavi certainly has that.
With three games of the season to go, Zahavi could stretch the scoring record to 30 goals or even more. The 32 year old has already scored/assisted 33 times this year, leaving him just short of the record of 35 shared by Ezequiel Lavezzi (Hebei, 2017) and Wu Lei (SIPG, 2018).
The CSL golden boot award is already Zahavi’s, meaning he’ll have won it twice in three full seasons in Guangzhou. Sadly for the CFA, and unlike previous golden boot winners Elkeson/艾克森 and Goulart/高拉特, Zahavi isn’t eligible for naturalisation. In fact, his 11 goals for Israel make him top scored in Euro 2020 qualifying.
Beijing Renhe 1 – 4 Guangzhou R&F
In news relating to the other 10 men who were in blue and white on Friday night, the Cantonese got their second away win of the season.
R&F went behind to yet another goal conceded from a corner. This time Jiang Jihong could only divert the ball into Jin Hui for the Renhe man’s first goal of the season.
The second half was a different story as Stojkovic made two crucial changes: the switch to three at the back and the introduction of Lu Lin. The Cantonese scored four goals in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Yi Teng – with his first goal since 2017 – got the equaliser from a corner. Zahavi’s landmark goal capped a great counterattack involving Saba, Lu Lin and Chen Zhizhao to put R&F in front.
Saba then got a double to take him to 12 for the season as the Cantonese exploited Renhe’s need to get at least a point from the game. As it is, the loss all but confirms Renhe’s return to China League One. There was a very different mood in the Cantonese dressing room post-match as Zahavi handed out hongbao to his teammates.
The CSL goes on another extended international break. Although after drawing with the Philippines last time out, Lippi has his work cut out to prepare for the Syria game. Meanwhile, Tang Miao has been named in the relatively inexperienced China squad to play in the EAFF Cup in Japan in December.
Xiao Zhi and Ding Haifeng have been left out of the R&F line-up recently for tactical rather than injury reasons and the break will give them a chance to get back into Stojkovic’s good books.
When the CSL returns for last games of the season, R&F have Wuhan away on a Friday night, Beijing Guoan at home on the Wednesday, and Henan away on the Sunday to finish the season. Not the easiest run of games – Wuhan have made a strong return to the CSL and are currently sixth, R&F’s proud home record against Guoan is no more after two thumpings last September, and R&F have a terrible record away at Henan. A top half finish is still possible though, and if the Cantonese get there you can be sure that Zahavi will be adding to his goalscoring tally.