SHANGHAI: Former Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur star Paulinho scored twice in the second half yesterday to send reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande into a title decider with Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League. The Brazilian international midfielder, 32, was the difference in a 3-1 victory over Beijing Guoan in their semi-final second leg, the first leg having ended 0-0. The coronavirus-disrupted CSL will be decided over two legs, on November 8 and 12, in front of what could be as many as 10,000 spectators in Suzhou.
Fabio Cannavaro's Evergrande took the lead in the first half with a goal made in Brazil. Brazil-born winger Fernando, who has been naturalized to play for China, won a penalty and Anderson Talisca fired into the net. Both were then involved in the 56th minute, teeing up compatriot Paulinho to curl the ball into the net via the underside of Beijing's crossbar. Striker Zhang Yuning halved the deficit, but Paulinho swept home with nine minutes left to keep alive Evergrande's hopes of retaining their crown.
The culmination of China's top league has been revamped into a two-legged knockout competition because of time lost to the coronavirus and it produced some chaotic ties at the top and bottom. Substitute Luo Jing hit a sumptuous winner in extra time as 10-man Jiangsu stunned Oscar's Shanghai SIPG 3-2 on aggregate to book their place in the championship final. Level 1-1 after the first leg, midfielder Yang Shiyuan scored a 25th-minute volley to put Shanghai ahead.
In a bad-tempered affair, Jiangsu went down to 10 men just before the hour when Abduhamit Abdugheni was sent off following a VAR referral for raking his studs down the base of Oscar's spine. The attacking midfielder, an Asian-record 60-million-euro purchase from Chelsea in 2017, limped off injured minutes later with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
Jiangsu deservedly hit back to force extra time and Luo then struck the winner with a curler from outside the box in the 107th minute to end the title hopes of Vitor Pereira's SIPG, who were champions in 2018. "We played with quality until the loss of Oscar and after the injury we lost the spirit, we lost the quality," said the Portuguese coach.
Three see red
All CSL matches are taking place in Suzhou or Dalian and players are in two secure "bubbles" to thwart coronavirus, although a small number of spectators are now allowed after China successfully got to grips with the health alert. There was also drama in Dalian in the fight to avoid relegation. Jordi Cruyff's Shenzhen FC defeated Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 3-2 on aggregate to retain their place in the CSL next season.
Ever Bright will play Wuhan Zall in the relegation decider after Wuhan lost on penalties to Qingdao Huanghai, in an encounter which saw three players sent off. The loser of the relegation final will be demoted and the winner will need to contest a play-off against the team that finishes second in China's second division. - AFP