Lunar New Year Cup: China’s Shandong Luneng claim win after bad-tempered final against Japan’s Sagan Tosu
- Chinese Super League club run out 3-1 winners in Hong Kong Stadium
- Shandong end the game with 10-men after Cui Peng is sent off
There was a ding-dong New Year battle between China’s Shandong Luneng and Japan’s Sagan Tosu to cap off the Lunar New Year Cup at Hong Kong Stadium on Thursday.
The Super League side ran out convincing 3-1 winners after a pulsating and, at times, bad-tempered finale, which provided a stern test for both sides in the early stages of their respective pre-season campaigns.
As was the case on Tuesday, the crowd were pulling for Spanish star Fernando Torres, but he was somewhat overshadowed by his opposite number Graziano Pelle, who was central to most of Shandong Luneng’s best work in a clash featuring top flight sides from two of the top leagues in Asia.
The CSL outfit got off to the best possible start when Brazilian centre back Gil struck at the back post from a corner on three minutes, but the game quickly settled into a pattern of mostly one-way traffic towards the Chinese side’s final third.
However, despite having the lion’s share of the possession throughout, the Japanese side struggled to find a killer instinct in the attacking third and squandered a number of chances before former Italy international Pelle made it 2-0 to the Chinese side a few minutes into the second half.
The home crowd were off their seats 10 minutes later, though, when Torres was on hand to nod in a rebound from a saved effort by the excellent Wang Dalei in Shandong’s goal.
The goal began a fevered period when emotions ran high and the home crowd firmly nailed their colours to the Japanese side’s mast.
A skirmish between Torres and Shandong’s Cui Peng, who would later be sent off for a second booking, fired up the So Kon Po crowd and transformed the final from an exhibition match to a blood and thunder clash that threatened to boil over on several occasions in the last 20 minutes.
“It’s professional football and so [the atmosphere on the pitch] is sometimes like this,” said Sagan Tosu manager Luis Carreras.
“Maybe it’s a little early in pre-season for this type of game, but it’s the best way to reach our targets. I’m very proud with how we played.”
With the crowd baying for an equaliser for the J.League side, there emerged the bizarre scene of the mainland team being constantly jeered by the Hong Kong crowd, much to the chagrin of several Shandong players.
“The fans were pretty excited and were very into the game,” said Shandong Luneng manager Li Xiaopeng when addressing the febrile reception his side received. “I observed a lot of fans of the Japanese team in the stadium.”
With the game heating up for a grand slam finish, Wang in the Shandong goal denied Yuta Higuchi a marvellous Sagan Tosu equaliser with an incredible flying save to claw out his curling effort from 25 yards.
Shandong sealed the win on 80 minutes when their trio of foreign stars combined beautifully to put them out of sight.
Shandong’s Portuguese youngster Gomes Delgado thrashed a winner past Yohei Takaoka in the Sagan Tosu goal after fine work from Pelle, who chested down a searching pass into the path of Brazilian Roger Guedes, who squared it to Delgado to finish.
There was still time for more needle, though, when Shandong players reacted badly to Sagan Tosu failing to put the ball out of play to aid a fallen Pelle. Then Cui was given his red card and made to walk the perimeter of the pitch past taunting fans on his way to the tunnel.
“[The atmosphere ] was definitely a good thing,” Li said. “Both teams really battled it out. “Sometimes it boiled over a bit, and I will go back and talk to the boys about that. I wanted the boys to simply focus on winning the game.”