We’re now deep into the AFC Champions League group stage and it’s starting to become clear which of the Chinese Super League sides are likely to progress to the knockout stages. Matchday four brought about the reverse fixtures from the previous round and while one particular team upset the odds, another fell at the way side, with the two left still in contention.
Tianjin Quanjian 4-2 Jeonbuk
Goals galore my just be the greatest understatement of the year. In their first tie in this competition the score ended 6-3, and after both sides crashed the ball into the back of the net on nine occasions you probably needed a lay down. So perhaps this was predictable, although those following probably weren’t expecting the three points to transfer across to China and not South Korea.
Before the match Jeonbuk had triumphed in all three of their group matches, scoring 12 in their last two. The task for Paulo Sousa’s side, therefore, could not have been greater.
Yet inside eight minutes it was the home team who hit the front, sending the partisan crowd packed into the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium into somewhat of a frenzy. Wang Yongpo’s strike after eight minutes put Tianjin in-front, but it wasn’t long until Jeonbuk responded when Kim Shin-Wook, again, put the ball past the CSL outfit.
On a knife edge, the crowd became glued to the flock on the field. Zhang Cheng’s magic feet managed to work their treat, the right winger placing Tianjin back into the lead shortly after half-time, before Jeonbuk replied once again through Carlos Adriano de Sousa Cruz.
Then out of the blue, with the points currently shared, Tianjin’s big money signings turned up, with first Anthony Modeste placing Tianjin in the lead for the third time in the match in the 84th minute, while as Jeonbuk chased the game late on Alexandre Pato finished off a rousing counter-attack.
Jeonbuk still top the group but after suffering their first defeat of the AFC campaign, Tianjin now just find themselves two points behind the South Korean giants.
Jeju 0-2 Guangzhou Evergrande
This was always going to be a crucial match in the context of the group. Timing is key in football and even against a side bottom of the table, any away tie in this competition must be met with concentration and determination.
Fabio Cannavaro’ side did just that. There are moments in football matches where it’s not just that you score a goal but when you find the net, and this match provided a metaphor for that saying.
Two goals in the space of ten first half minutes sank Jeju and in truth there was no real chance of a comeback. The belief of the crowd had drained in an instant, knowing that this was more of the same, a lot of talk but not a real deal of productive action on the pitch.
Nemanji Gudelij opened the scoring on 27 minutes before Alan Carvalho found the net yet again in the competition, this time just under the 40 minute mark.
Guangzhou now top the group by three points to second placed Taiwanese outfit Buriram United.
Ulsan 0-1 Shanghai SIPG
If you could pick one side most likely to win this competition this year then Shanghai are that team. Under the immense stewardship of Vitor Pereira the CSL side have swept the opposition apart, not through lavish free flowing football but down to their sheer consistency.
They’ve only scored eight goals in the tournament so far, but the fact they have conceded just three means that they share the best defence with five other sides. Their 1-0 triumph against Ulsan was really another chapter to that traditional story.
Even with just 32% possession, it didn’t really matter. Shanghai had just three shots on target yet Elkeson’s instinctive strike on 50 minutes proved decisive.
Shanghai are now just one of two teams to qualify for the knockout stages and the expectation is they will be in and around the latter stages of those a few months down the line.
Shanghai Shenhua 0-2 Suwon Bluewings
Shenhua’s journey in the competition may be coming to an early end. This was mammoth. At home to a side competing with them for that second qualification spot. They failed. And it may mean the end of their journey.
Now four points off the qualification places, Shenhua have it all to do. Two goals from Dejan Damjanovic and Choi Sung-keun were simply too much for Shenhua, who in fact had two more shots than their counterparts.
The gap is now four points and that may be seen as a chasm by onlookers. It’s posssible to make that up, but my word its tough.