Beijing Guoan players’ lack of fight ends Chinese Super League dream for another year but fans show plenty off the pitch

Hulk goal makes it a two-horse race between Shanghai SIPG and champions Guangzhou Evergrande while things are getting spicy in the relegation places

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 8:57pm

Fight. It’s a word that features in English on several of the supporter banners that you see hung up in Chinese Super League stadiums.

Sadly for the Beijing Guoan faithful on Saturday night it was a quality that was all too absent on the pitch.

In a must-win game, Guoan lost and with it went their hopes of becoming champions.

Victory would have taken them to four points behind league leaders Shanghai SIPG but the loss meant that the visitors extended their lead over Guoan to 10 points and ended their bid to bring the championship back to the capital for the first time since 2010.

Hulk’s goal, which squirted under Guoan goalkeeper Guo Quanbo, was fittingly drab for a game that promised much and delivered almost nothing – at least on the pitch.

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Fight was a quality that was not lacking in the stands. It never is at the Workers’ Stadium because Guoan have one of the best supports in the country.

The atmosphere at the Workers’ Stadium is, at its peak, one to rival any in world football.

Some 40,000 of them cheered on their heroes on Saturday night, willing them on to keep the title dream alive, and aiming the expected opprobrium at both the referee – who disallowed a Guoan goal after consulting VAR – and the pocket of travelling Shanghai SIPG fans, with some home supporters making their feelings known in no uncertain terms.

There was a kerfuffle in the stands, with the action off the pitch distracting from that on it as the usual whispers passed the ground like a Mexican wave.

Video of a foreigner being helpfully pointed in the direction of the exit door was doing the rounds on WeChat almost immediately.

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In the last game, their semi-final second-leg victory over Guangzhou R&F in midweek that ensured there is a chance that Beijing will see some silverware this season, there was another incident in the stands.

Video from R&F’s Yuexiushan home was circulating on social media that showed a stadium security guard being led away injured with rumours that the Guoan fans had deliberately caused that.

Conflicting evidence suggested that the away fans were goaded by fans from rivals Guangzhou Evergrande who had taken their own team’s lack of cup game as an opportunity for mischief.

These are passionate fans, as you can tell by the number of green jerseys and tracksuit tops that descend on Sanlitun and its surrounds early on matchdays.

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Guoan is the club of the city and visibly displayed in such forms as stickers on cars.

The club shop, which is now totally devoid of official Nike merchandise, is another hint at the attitude up north.

Rather than be held to the league-wide Nike deal, the northern powerhouse is making a break for it.

The fans have bought in, with many of the club-own designs littering the terraces.

They deserve another title winning team.

Just not this year.

Shandong Luneng have shown fight. They came from behind to draw and leapfrogged Guoan on head-to-head record. The title race may be over for them too but as it stands, because Shandong and Beijing Guoan contest the Chinese FA Cup final at the end of November, the current top four will be the AFC Champions League representatives next season.

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Lower down the table, Dalian Yifang have shown plenty of fight of their own of late. Maybe because owner Wang Jianlin turned up the other week to watch his first game of football in two decades. Maybe it’s something else in the water in the port town but they are comfortably midtable and not even a 3-0 reverse to the champions could change that.

From being in crisis earlier in the summer, Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande side have shown plenty of fight of their own.

That win kept them four points behind SIPG in what is now a two-horse race for the CSL title.

Alan Carvalho, a man who showed a bit too much fight when elbowing Tianjin Quanjian’s Liu Yiming back in April, returned to the line up and opened the scoring from the spot.

He’s had to fight for his return to the side but now he’s back in the mix, it’s a welcome headache for the manager as they look to hold on to the title.

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Contrast that with poor Tianjin Quanjian, whose own season is essentially over after manager Paulo Sousa has suffered from the wrong kind of selection headaches.

Since selling Axel Witsel and losing Anthony Modeste to a contract dispute his side limped out of the Champions League and lost this weekend to Jordi Cruyff’s Chongqing Dangdai Lifan.

It’s understandable enough after tasting continental action and losing their best players but they are not safe yet given their recent form.

Third bottom Chongqing’s win brings them within three points of both Tianjin sides and they seem to realise they are fighting for their lives.

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With the bottom two sides – Guizhou Zhicheng and Henan Jianye – also winning, there’s plenty of fight at the bottom.

Just maybe not everyone realises they are in one.