Chinese FA Cup delivers drama and heartbreak as ‘China’s Manchester United’ crash out to Super League leaders Beijing Guoan
Table toppers punish misfiring Shanghai SIPG as another chance for silverware slips through their fingers
“The magic of the cup” is the cliche of choice when it comes to the English FA Cup but if it’s played out for the world’s oldest cup competition then it can happily – rather than glibly – be applied to the Chinese equivalent.
On Wednesday night, Beijing Guoan met Shanghai SIPG in Shanghai and the Chinese Super League leaders came in to town in fine form, having played their way to the top of the table since the teams returned from an extended summer break – to add extra spice, the side they replaced at the top were their hosts.
The first leg had ended 2-1 to the capital club but SIPG raced to a 2-0 lead before the break and as time ticked down in the second half, they were looking sure to reach the semi-finals.
Then a free kick was given in the 94th minute and Jonathan Viera stepped up to fire past Yan Junling, forcing extra time with the scores level at 3-3 on aggregate. Drama.
The game petered out to penalties and after Elkeson missed Guoan’s Renato Augusto scored to make sure they would have at least one more round in the Yanjing Beer 2018 CFA Cup.
Elkeson missing, as he failed to take chances to put the game to bed within normal time, is apt.
When the Brazilian was signed to SIPG from Guangzhou Evergrande it was “for the purpose of supporting Chinese teams to compete in the AFC Champions League, and for national glory,” according to his former club.
With that statement signing, the die was cast. SIPG became the most hated team in the league, at least by the clubs that matter .
It’s a remarkable achievement for a team that was only promoted to the CSL in 2013.
— Mads Davidsen (@MadsRDavidsen) 25 July 2018
The Brazilian, now the record scoring foreigner in CSL history, joined an SIPG that was managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England boss brought in when SIPG took full control over the club in 2014.
That set expectations and they have not yet been met.
Arguably, SIPG are a microcosm of Chinese football. Expected to win. When they don’t, no matter how close they come, it is a disaster. The rumours are now that Vitor Pereira will follow Eriksson and his immediate predecessor Andres Villas-Boas out of the door at Shanghai Stadium.
At the same time, you could argue that SIPG over-performed. They’ve finished ninth, fifth, second, third and second in their five CSL seasons. They are third now.
In only three seasons of Champions League competition, they have reached the knockouts each time.
But just like last night, they have failed at clutch moments.
Last season, they were 3-2 up at half-time away to Liaoning – the bottom team in the league, no less – and drew 3-3. Evergrande meanwhile won 4-3 against the other relegated team, Yanbian Funde.
That was the 27th game of the 30 game season and SIPG were still in the hunt at that stage, despite the dropped points.
The next game, with nine points left to play for, the teams went in seven points apart – mathematically possible, as the saying goes – but once again SIPG shirked the chance.
They lost to Guangzhou R&F in Shanghai, while Evergrande battered Guizhou Zhicheng 5-1 to win the league in style.
The nine-point gap with six points available meant there was only pride to play for in the last couple of games for SIPG.
They managed that in one and not in the last game of the season to finish the league six points behind Evergrande.
They had bested Evergrande in an epic two legs in the AFC Champions League but lost the semi-final, which is essentially the East Asia final, to eventual champions Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.
Worst of all, it ended with them losing to Shanghai Shenhua over two legs in the CFA Cup final.
Shenhua, a team they had beaten 6-1 in the league just weeks before. A team they have come to generally get the better of and finish above since they returned to the CSL. The team that hates them more than any other.
This season, SIPG started off well, very well, negotiating the group stage of the Champions League and racing to the top of the league.
But they are out of Asia, have surrendered top spot since the league returned and are now out of the Cup.
For the team sponsored by the Port Group, the ship may have sailed on silverware for another season.
Another great video from last night, Yu Dabao grabs the megaphone to celebrate with the fans after the penalty shootout win that puts Beijing Guoan in the CFA Cup semifinals, this will be their 10th appearance in semis (last one in 2013) pic.twitter.com/9pTJ3CHZAJ
— modernleifeng (@modernleifeng) 26 July 2018
And you have to feel that Pereira will pay the price just as Sven did before Villas Boas was driven round the bend by the CFA suits and Evergrande car conspiracies that he thought the Dakar Rally was a better option than managing the CSL’s punchline.
Is the sense of expectation undue? Perhaps, but it has always been there.
It was original owner Gu Xenbao’s dream to create “China’s Manchester United” and the club have achieved just that: they are the team that everyone loves to hate and for their fans the team they hate to love.
As for Guoan, they go on to play Shanghai Shenhua on Saturday in the China derby and a chance to extend their lead in the table.
For fans of both sides it’s a chance to laugh at SIPG.