The Sun Kings took a point in a tactically interesting but otherwise excitement-free contest in Wednesday’s Group H AFC Champions League against Chinese Super League title holders Guangzhou Evergrande, but they will need to produce a better performance in the return fixture if they are to avoid a repeat of a home leg in which they were outplayed by technically superior opponents for large periods.
Manager Nelsinho chose to make three changes to the team which stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at Jubilo Iwata, Ryoji Fukui coming in at left-back for his first appearance for Kashiwa Reysol, while Tatsuya Masushima was favoured over Daisuke Nasu at centre-back and Leandro Domingues returned to the heart of midfield, Koki Mizuno the player to make way.
Within the first minute the attacking intent of the Southern China Dragons was made clear. A defence splitting pass found Muriqui, and with Masushima holding the Brazilian winger and pulling him to the floor, the referee overlooked a clear penalty claim as Cleo followed up on the loose ball but lashed his shot over the crossbar.
Defensive frailties have cost Reysol on a number of occasions already this season, and they were nearly made to pay three minutes later when Masushima failed to clear a cross from Gao Lin on the right, the ball dropping to Xiang on the edge of the penalty area whose strike only narrowly cleared the bar.
Reysol attempted to use a favoured tactic of Leandro Domingues sliding a ball to overlapping full-back on a few occasions, but the channel was largely closed down by the interesting shape adopted by Evergrande. What at times appeared an orthodox 4-2-3-1 shifted to a 2-5-3, the forwards pressing tightly on Reysol’s defensive line and forcing them to cede possession, while the crowded midfield meant Domingues had both little time in possession and space to pass in to. One of the limited successes was on the 10 minute mark when Sakai latched on to a pass and drifted into the box, but his pull back was too strong for the arriving Jorge Wagner, and then moments later Domingues found Sakai again, his cross headed back to the waiting Domingues by Masato Kudo, but the Brazilian midfielder found his shot blocked.
Midway through the first period Reysol had a brief glimpse of goal. Sakai, probably Reysol’s best performer of the evening, escaped the challenge of Sun Xiang, and although the subsequent cross slightly too high for Junya Tanaka, the forward did extremely well to glance a knock-down to Wagner, and his sliding right-footed shot was just wide of the upright.
Takanori Sugeno was the first of the goalkeepers called into action on the night. Half an hour had been played when Dario Conca, the elusive Argentinian midfielder whose $10.4 million annual salary makes him among the highest paid players in the world, lined up a free-kick from 35 yards after Muriqui had been brought down. His powerful shot cleared the Reysol wall, but was straight at Sugeno, who punched long to clear.
With thirteen minutes to go in the first period, it was Yang Jun’s turn to make a save. Domingues had a rare sight of goal, and he bent a low left-footed shot from 18 yards, which Jun gather comfortably to his right. The home side and manager were visibly frustrated towards the end of the half, passes being misplaced and a very high defensive line from Evergrande regularly catching Reysol forwards in an offside position. As the half drew to a close, the question would be whether Nelsinho would shuffle the side and formation to deal with tactics meant to stifle their attacking play and catch the Sun Kings on the counter-attack.
Unfortunately for Reysol, the second-half began in similar fashion to the first. After Tanaka had been caught offside within the very first minute, only two excellent tackles, first from Sakai and then from Naoyo Kondo, prevented both Muriqui and Cleo having just Sugeno to beat. Twelve minutes had elapsed in the second period when Masushima was then required to make a last-ditch block, Conca crossing and Gao Lin turning Sakai before the centre-back ensured the shot was deflected away for a corner.
Captain Hidekazu Otani and Leandro Domingues were still struggling to get a foothold in the midfield, but with 25 minutes on the clock Nelsinho opted not to reinforce the midfield, instead opting to replace Junya Tanaka with Akimi Barada, and two minutes later the naivety of the substitution was underlined when Kudo was caught offside once more.
70 minutes had passed when Reysol finally appeared to find some possession, coinciding with substitute Ricardo Lobo coming on for Masato Kudo, Lobo acting as a pivot between the midfield and Akimi Barada when all too often the Reysol forward line had been isolated. The Sun Kings had to endure a couple of nervous moments moving in to the last 10 minutes, but they had their two best opportunities of the match in quick succession, first Sakai breaking down the right-wing and whipping a cross which Lobo steered beyond Jun’s right post, and then on 81 minutes Jorge Wagner gaining possession on the left edge of the penalty area, his attempted shot was met by a sliding Lobo but with not enough purchase to send it into the goal, the ball only inches wide of the right post.
Both sides seemed satisfied to play out the remaining minutes and settle for a draw, but the Chinese side will be most content with the draw. Both sides are level on points in second place in Group H, but Evergrande with two matches to play at home, including the return fixture with Reysol at the Tianhe Stadium on 17 April.
|Kashiwa Reysol||Guangzhou Evergrande|