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September 18, 2019

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SIPG knocked out in ACL last 8 on away goals

An indomitable Shanghai SIPG drew 1-1 with Urawa Red Diamonds in their AFC Champions League quarterfinal, second-leg match in Japan yesterday, but was still eliminated from the elite Asian tournament on the away goals rule.

The two sides drew 2-2 at Shanghai Stadium in the first leg three weeks ago. The final aggregate score was 3-3 but SIPG scored one less away goal than its Japanese opponent.

“I am sad about the result, but I have nothing to blame my players,” SIPG head coach Vitor Pereira said at the post-match press conference.

Given the absence of Hulk and Odil Akhmedov, Oscar took over the captain armband. Former West Ham United striker Marko Arnautovic partnered Li Shenglong and Lu Wenjun as the frontline trio.

The match was quite balanced early in the first half at Saitama Stadium, with SIPG creating its first chance seven minutes into kickoff when Arnautovic’s header went slightly over the bar.

The hosts hit back two minutes later but Brazil striker Fabricio’s header was off target.

SIPG was forced to make an early substitution when midfielder Yang Shiyuan sprained his ankle in the 25th minute and was replaced by Lin Chuangyi.

Urawa almost scored in the 35th when Kazuki Nagasawa’s close-range shot was parried by SIPG goalkeeper Yan Junling.

But Yan could not block Urawa captain Shinzo Koroki’s attempt three minutes later. Koroki was left unmarked in the box when he received Sekine Takahiro’s pass and sent the ball into the back of the net with a header.

The prolific Koroki was, however, officially denied his seventh strike of the campaign on a technicality.

Yan was credited with an own goal after palming Koroki’s 39th-minute header.

The hosts pressed harder after the break while the visitors sought to counterattack, and the chance came in the 60th.

Yu Hai’s pass from top of the box found an unmarked Wang Shenchao in front of Urawa’s goal, and the latter volleyed the ball into the net for the equalizer.

Urawa was eager to take the lead back, hitting SIPG’s post just one minute later.

Both sides managed to create chances but failed to convert them into goals. The 1-1 score remained unchanged despite SIPG’s frantic attacks in the closing minutes.

Two-time ACL champion Urawa will next take on either defending champions Kashima Antlers or two-time winner Guangzhou Evergrande to determine who will advance to the 2019 ACL final.

“We did well in the first 20 minutes, pressing the opponents tactically,” Pereira said, reviewing the match. “Our opponents were playing 3-4-3 and we didn’t give them much chance for long passes. In the last 20 minutes of the first half, they played better and scored first.”

“Urawa is a good team with fast attackers. When fighting for the ball, we left too much space in the midfield for our opponents,” he added. “After our equalizer in the second half, they lost confidence. We had our chances and could have scored from one of the corners, but didn’t seize the opportunity. I’m happy with my players, who fought a lot to go further into this competition.”

Scorer Wang agreed with his coach’s assessment. “We played well today despite the final result. In two-leg contests, every goal counts. We conceded too many away goals, and this is what we need to improve.”

“We will next focus on the domestic league. Even if we can’t get the title, a second-place finish will be better than a third, which will guarantee us a place in next year’s ACL,” he added.

After elimination from both the ACL and the China FA Cup, SIPG now has only the Chinese Super League to play for this season. The defending champion lies third in the domestic league on 53 points, six adrift of leader Evergrande, with six more rounds to go.

Three competitions

“I’m proud that we are one of the best eight teams in Asia,” said Pereira. “We advanced to the semifinals of the China FA Cup and are still fighting for the title in the CSL. What else can I say?

“Our squad is not good enough to succeed in all three competitions. But we tried. What we will do next is to win the next league match.”

Pereira’s Urawa counterpart Tsuyoshi Otsuki conceded that his team was saved by the goals scored in Shanghai. “The away goals helped a lot,” he said. “The two teams studied each other well. I told the players to go forward in the match and play more long balls. Since we are struggling in the domestic league, today’s match is like a turning point for the team regarding the players’ performance.”

The result stands in contrast to the club’s domestic form, with Urawa in 15th place in the current J League standings and just one place above the relegation playoff position.

Urawa captain Koroki, who was named player of the match, said he had expected the match to be a difficult one.

“SIPG had extra confidence after the equalizer, but our defenders did well in the latter part of the match and we managed to advance. Hopefully we will take on Kashima (in the semifinals) next,” he said.


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