SHANGHAI: Shanghai SIPG are the new kings of Chinese football after winning the Chinese Super League (CSL) to end Guangzhou Evergrande’s seven-year reign as champions.
The Shanghai club of expensive Brazilian duo Oscar and Hulk were crowned champions for the first time in their history on Wednesday after a 2-1 home victory over Beijing Renhe.
AFP Sports pinpoints how SIPG were finally able to break Evergrande’s stranglehold on Chinese football — and where Fabio Cannavaro’s deposed champions failed.
Oscar had a mediocre first year after signing for an Asian-record €60 million from Chelsea, but this season he has racked up a CSL-leading 18 assists, and scored 12 goals.
He provided some of the ammunition for Wu Lei, China’s best player and the league’s top scorer with 27 goals.
Then there is striker and captain Hulk, who averaged a goal every other game. A third Brazilian attacker, Elkeson, weighed in with seven goals.
Andre Villas-Boas left at the end of last season but SIPG did not make wholesale changes to their playing or background staff.
Swapping one Portuguese coach for another in Vitor Pereira — a former assistant to Villas-Boas — eased the transition off the pitch, while on it they kept faith with most of the squad that came second behind Evergrande 12 months ago.
Fans were unimpressed by Pereira’s appointment and wanted a bigger name, but an 8-0 opening-day thrashing of Dalian Yifang set the tone.
SIPG were dumped out of the Asian Champions League in May, part of a poor run of form that saw the pressure on Pereira mount.
In July they went out of the Chinese FA Cup to CSL title rivals Beijing Guoan.
But Pereira, having complained about playing two matches a week, might have been thankful for the decreased workload on his players.
In the 17 CSL games since exiting the domestic cup they have lost only once. Beijing Guoan and Shandong Luneng reached the FA Cup final, but their league challenges imploded.
When the CSL took a two-month break for the World Cup, Evergrande seized the moment to bring former favourite Paulinho back from Barcelona. Anderson Talisca, the talented attacking midfielder, was meanwhile drafted in on loan from Benfica.
The Brazilians made an immediate impact, but Evergrande were always playing catch-up after a poor start.
Serbian midfielder Nemanja Gudelj — signed in the close season as Paulinho’s replacement – was a notable flop and was shipped off to Sporting Lisbon.
Evergrande have been likened to Manchester United because of their great success. But like United, they have found it hard to replace their stalwarts.
It says everything about the ageing nature of the squad that midfielder Zheng Zhi remains captain and a first choice — at age 38. The average age of Cannavaro’s starting XI against SIPG last weekend was nearly 31.
SIPG — who won what was effectively the title decider 5-4 — averaged nearer 27. It suggests SIPG are much better geared for success in the coming seasons.