SIPG end Guangzhou dom­i­nance

SIPG end Guangzhou Ever­grande dom­i­nance

World Soccer - - Contents - CAMERON WIL­SON

In a mo­men­tous 2018 sea­son, Shang­hai SIPG won their first Chi­nese Su­per League (CSL) ti­tle, foil­ing Guangzhou Ever­grande’s bid for an eighth straight cham­pi­onship and as good as seal­ing the tro­phy by win­ning 5-4 away to the de­fend­ing champions in early Novem­ber.

Shang­hai were pro­pelled to the cham­pi­onship by the goals of Wu Lei, who formed a po­tent at­tack­ing unit along with Brazil­ian striker Hulk and ex-Chelsea mid­fielder Os­car, who was ably part­nered by stron­grun­ning Uzbek­istan in­ter­na­tional Odil Ahme­dov.

Shang­hai SIPG started the year as they meant to go on, de­mol­ish­ing Dalian Yi­fang 8-0 on the first day of the sea­son. Other key re­sults in­cluded a hard­fought 1-0 vic­tory at Beijing Guoan and an­other vic­tory over Guangzhou Ever­grande, this time at home. SIPG also com­pleted a clean sweep in the Shang­hai derby against bit­ter ri­vals Shen­hua, win­ning 2-0 both home and away.

Wu Lei’s lead­ing role in their ti­tle win was a rare suc­cess story for Chi­nese foot­ball, with the Nan­jing­born striker fea­tur­ing for the club in ev­ery sea­son of its ex­is­tence since its foun­da­tion in 2005 as Shang­hai East Asia.

Orig­i­nally es­tab­lished as a team to rep­re­sent the academy of leg­endary Chi­nese coach Xu Gen­bao, the club worked its way up from the third tier and was only pro­moted to the CSL in 2013. The fol­low­ing year, Xu sold the club to lo­cal ship­ping con­glom­er­ate SIPG, who changed the name of the team and spent big on the likes of Hulk and Os­car in an ef­fort to wres­tle the CSL ti­tle from all-con­quer­ing Guangzhou Ever­grande.

Sta­bil­ity in the dugout was key to SIPG’s suc­cess, with for­mer Porto and Mu­nich 1860 boss Vi­tor Pereira a steady­ing in­flu­ence since tak­ing over the reigns in the close sea­son from fel­low Por­tuguese coach An­dre Vil­las-Boas. Last sea­son, a se­ries of well-pub­li­cised spats be­tween Vil­las-Boas and the Chi­nese foot­ball au­thor­i­ties over dis­ci­plinary matters, in­clud­ing an eight­match ban for Os­car, proved some­thing of a dis­trac­tion and con­trib­uted to the club end­ing the sea­son empty-handed.

Ex­it­ing the AFC Champions League at the round-of-16 phase to the J-League’s Kashima Antlers proved to be a bless­ing in dis­guise for Pereira as it al­lowed SIPG to fo­cus on do­mes­tic is­sues. And the club’s roots as an academy side also paid off in the shape of su­pe­rior do­mes­tic tal­ent. In ad­di­tion to Wu Lei, goal­keeper Yan Jun­ling, de­fender Wang Shen­chao, plus midfielders Cai Huikang and Lu Wen­jun made up the spine of the side. All have been capped by China, are at the peak of their ca­reers and have been with the club since youth level.

Un­like SIPG, Guangzhou Ever­grande’s do­mes­tic tal­ent has been ac­quired largely

from other teams through fi­nan­cial mus­cle rather than de­vel­op­ing it them­selves. Ad­di­tion­ally, their side is age­ing – that their cap­tain is 38-year-old Zheng Zhi tells its own story. Back in his sec­ond spell as coach, Fabio Can­navaro will face a big test next sea­son in try­ing to re­ju­ve­nate one of the most suc­cess­ful club sides China has ever pro­duced.

Else­where, matters off the pitch once again tar­nished pro­ceed­ings as the Chi­nese FA left clubs and play­ers aghast with a se­ries of dra­co­nian pun­ish­ments for rel­a­tively mi­nor in­frac­tions – such as the one-match ban handed to Shan­dong Luneng striker Diego Tardelli for scratch­ing his face as he stood for the Chi­nese na­tional an­them be­fore a game against Shang­hai SIPG in Oc­to­ber.

Such in­ci­dents are widely con­sid­ered by the Chi­nese foot­ball media to have un­der­mined the in­tegrity of the league, along with the de­ci­sion to call up 55 un­der-25 play­ers for a mil­i­tary-syle train­ing camp in Oc­to­ber just as the clubs were about to play vi­tal late-sea­son CSL matches.

Ex­ter­nal fac­tors were re­spon­si­ble for fur­ther mis­for­tune as Shang­hai SIPG were de­nied a proper ti­tle party. Lo­cal police lim­ited at­ten­dance at their fi­nal home game of the cam­paign to sea­son-ticket hold­ers only for “safety con­cerns”, so just 20,000 fans filled the 60,000-ca­pac­ity Shang­hai Sta­dium. It was com­monly be­lieved that the fact pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was in the city at the same time for an in­ter­na­tional trade fair was the real rea­son be­hind the no­to­ri­ously risk-averse se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties’ de­ci­sion.

There was more pos­i­tive news, how­ever, as the CFA con­firmed that a plan to field a na­tional-devel­op­ment team in the CSL next sea­son had been shelved.

And the sea­son fin­ished on a high for Beijing Guoan, who clinched their first tro­phy for nearly a decade, win­ning a two-legged CFA Cup Fi­nal against Shan­dong Luneng on away goals.

His­toric...Shang­hai SIPG cel­e­brate a first CSL ti­tle

Winner...Beijing Guoan’s Yu Dabao beats Diego Tardelli of Shan­dong Luneng in the Cup Fi­nal

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