Ticketing scandals, seating allocation confusion, and a full day of torrential rain served as the prefix for this much anticipated Asian Champions League fixture. But for Eastern and their fans, the real misery was yet to come, as they were comprehensively beaten 6-0 by a Guangzhou side, who sent out a clear statement of intent with their display at Mong Kok Stadium.
A combination of poor weather conditions and a vociferous, compact crowd was about the only hope Eastern had of unsettling this Evergrande side, but the visitors made it clear quite early on that they were unfazed by the conditions presented to them. Within six minutes, the deadlock was broken, with a goal that was created by three seasoned internationals. Skipper Zheng Zhi picked the ball up in midfield, before spraying it out to Zhang Linpeng, whose out-swinging cross was met by Paulinho. The Brazilian international sent a powerful header past the helpless Yapp Hung-fai.
Initially appearing to be undeterred by this setback, Eastern fought back, and managed to test Zeng Cheng a few minutes afterwards, but Manuel Bleda’s effort was easily saved after he had been sent through by Jaimes McKee. McKee’s pace and work-rate appeared to be the sole weapon Eastern had in their arsenal going forward, and he – combined with Bleda – once again handed the hosts their second chance of the half. This time the Spaniard picked the ball up from McKee, before seeing his shot blocked. At the other end, the potential threat of Guangzhou’s Brazilian playmaker Alan was evident early on, the ex-Salzburg player looking dangerous any time he got on the ball. His first real chance came on 29 minutes, when he obtained a loose ball on the edge of the box and sent it harmlessly over. Moments later, Alan had another wayward effort on goal, but his movements were threatening, and perhaps a warning sign for what was yet to come, as the lead was doubled before the break. Zhang Linpeng sent a dangerous ball across goal, after being set free on the wing by Huang Bowen, and his pass was turned in by Josh Mitchell into his own net, who attempted to prevent the ball from reaching Ricardo Goulart at the back post. This was to be the last action of the half, and Eastern went in at the break with a score-line that was still somewhat respectable.
The second half began very much in the same vain as the first, with Guangzhou quickly creating a breakthrough and finding the back of Yapp Hung-fai’s net. This time it was Alan’s turn, who was sent through by Goulart, before rounding the keeper and slotting it into the empty goal. The period after this goal was devoid of any real goalmouth action, as Guangzhou elected to hold position and exhibit their control rather than maintain the attacking intensity of the first half. Nonetheless, their tally was eventually brought to four. Liao Lisheng produced an assist with his first touch after coming on as a substitute, squaring to Alan who was left with the easy task of tapping the ball in from inside the six-yard box. Curiously, and completely against the run of play, the minutes succeeding this saw Eastern hit the woodwork on two occasions. In the first instance, a lofted pass from Diego Eli, which was intended for the onrushing Jaimes McKee, was flicked on by Guangzhou defender Mei Fang before crashing off the post and out, and minutes later, Josh Mitchell came close, hitting the post with a headed effort from a corner.
Unable to make their brief period of pressure pay off, Guangzhou displayed their ruthlessness by recording their fifth goal of the night at the other end soon after. Substitute Yu Hanchao’s corner was met by the head of Feng Xiaoting, who saw his effort pushed away by Yapp, but only as far as Paulinho, who made no mistake in burying the ball into the net. Not pretty, but they all count – and straight he went into the travelling army of Guangzhou fans to join in their celebrations. It was these same fans however, that were to create the greatest talking point of the night a few moments later. With just minutes remaining in the encounter, the Guangzhou fans unfurled a large banner which presented a political pun aimed at the Hong Kong fans, that can be translated as “annihilate British dogs, extinguish Hong Kong independence poison”, much to the visible disdain of the home supporters, who made their feelings known. Meanwhile, the AFC announced that they will investigate the incident and decide if it warrants a fine against Guangzhou Evergrande for unruly behaviour of fans.
The final act of consequence in the game saw the net shook one last time, as Yu Hanchao rounded off an excellent cameo performance with a goal, courtesy of a free-kick which evaded everyone and sailed into the side of the net. For Eastern, conceding thirteen goals in two games against their ‘local’ rivals will be seen as a disappointment by many. While for Guangzhou, to reiterate Scolari’s mentality: it’s another three points. Evergrande are now on top of group G, with 9 points, but it will come down to the final match against Suwon Bluewings to decide if the CSL giants will also qualify for the Round of 16.
EASTERN: Yapp Hung-fai, Josh Mitchell, Diego Eli, Bei He, Manuel Bleda (Cheng King-ho), Tse Man-wing, Roberto Affonso, Lee Hong-lim (Xu Deshuai), Tsang Kam-to, Jaimes McKee, Leung Chun-pong (Tsang Chi-hau)
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE: Zeng Cheng, Mei Fang, Zhang Linpeng, Feng Xiaoting, Alan (Wang Shangyuan), Paulinho, Zheng Zhi (Yu Hanchao), Ricardo Goulart (Liao Lisheng), Huang Bowen, Zou Zheng, Gao Lin
Title picture by Dennis Lo