Shanghai struggles without stars
INJURED Brazilian forward Hulk sat out again as his Shanghai SIPG side drew 0-0 at home to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg on August 23. Former champions Al Ain were also held to a goalless stalemate by Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv in the sapping heat of the UAE in the West Asian leg of the tournament.
The powerfully built Hulk played just 21 minutes of football before being injured on his debut on July 11 after a high-profile 55 million euro (US$61 million) transfer from Zenit St Petersburg.
The Shanghai side’s coach, former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, had hoped at the weekend that Hulk might be fit to make his comeback in the Champions League clash.
But Hulk’s name was absent from the teamsheet along with that of another key player, Argentine playmaker Dario Conca, who could be out for the season, the club said, after sustaining a knee injury in a domestic match last week.
The first decent chance did not fall until the 25th minute when a long ball was expertly controlled by Chinese international forward Wu Lei whose square pass into the box fell just short of his strike partner Elkeson.
Just two minutes later the Brazilian front man, who won the Asian Champions League last season with Guangzhou Evergrande, had the 33,000-strong crowd screaming for a penalty when he fell at the edge of Jeonbuk’s box.
However Australian referee Benjamin Williams gave a free-kick outside the 18-yard area which Elkeson blasted straight against the wall.
In the 37th minute, Jeonbuk’s Brazilian forward Leonardo hit the post with a curling effort from outside the box.
A whipping free-kick from Lu Wenjun almost put SIPG ahead but Jeonbuk goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae pushed the effort wide in the 54th minute.
SIPG enjoyed a spell of heavy pressure toward the end as an unusually-animated Eriksson urged his charges on from the touchline.
His exhortations almost paid off when Wu Lei went close with a backward header from inside the box two minutes from time. Hulk to return “I think it was an acceptable outcome,” Eriksson told reporters after the match. “They had some chances, we had some chances, so it was even.
“A clean sheet at home is very important. The tie is still open and there are still possibilities for us to reach the semi-final.”
The second leg is on September 13 in Jeonju, South Korea and Eriksson said Hulk should be back for it.
“If everything goes as we plan, as the doctors plan, then Hulk will be ready for our next Chinese Super League game against Beijing,” said Eriksson.
“That would mean he would be ready for the AFC Champions League game in Korea – fingers crossed.”
In Al Ain, the teams struggled for momentum in harsh conditions with the result that they will have all to play for when they clash in the second leg on September 13 in Tashkent.
The best chance of the match for Al Ain came 10 minutes from time but Danilo Asprilla’s effort from close was repelled by Ignatiy Nesterov.
With the desert heat breaking the 40 degree Celsius mark, it was an uphill battle for players although Al Ain clearly were better suited to the conditions, going close on several occasions early in the match, including one from their talisman Omar Abdulrahman who saw his curling free-kick palmed away by Uzbek international goalkeeper Nesterov.
Lokomotiv, too, had their chances, Sardor Mirzayev going inches wide in the 25th minute and Sanjar Shaakhmedov’s long-ranger being pushed over the bar by Khalid Eissa moments later.
The pace of the match dropped decidedly in the second half as the heat took its toll, but Al Ain will go into the second leg with much confidence having had the better of the exchanges. –
Kim Ju Young (left) of China’s Shanghai SIPG fights for the ball with Lee Dong Gook of South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors during their AFC Champions League quarter-final football match in Shanghai on August 23.