Magnificent Seven

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/23 23:13:40

Evergrande seal Chinese Super League title, again

Guangzhou Evergrande striker Gao Lin chases the ball in their Chinese Super League game against Guizhou Zhicheng on Sunday in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Photo: VCG

Guangzhou Evergrande sealed the Chinese Super League (CSL) title for the seventh consecutive time with a 5-1 thumping of Guizhou Zhicheng at the Tianhe Stadium on Sunday night.

Evergrande have won the title every season since earning promotion to the Chinese top flight as second-division champions in 2010.

Only Dalian Shide have won more top-flight titles - eight - in Jia-A, before the launching of the CSL.

Leading second-placed Shanghai SIPG by six points and nurturing ­better head-to-head results as the rivals approached the third-from-last fixture, Evergrande sealed the title with the comfortable win.

Joyous night

Some 49,736 fans in the 58,500-­capacity stadium didn't have to wait long as the hosts took a 2-0 lead 17 minutes into the match. China striker Gao Lin headed home a Ricardo Goulart cross from the left in the 15th minute, his 100th goal for the club. Two minutes later, ­Brazilian Goulart got the ball from careless Guizhou defender Yang Ting and passed it to compatriot Alan, who rounded goalkeeper Su Boyang before doubling the hosts' lead.

The visitors pulled one goal back right before the half-hour mark through midfielder Wang Fan. Both sides failed to rewrite the scoreline despite chances before halftime. Seven minutes after the break, Goulart stretched their lead when his header from the corner kick bounced off Guizhou defender Du Wei into goal. Substitute Yu Hanchao made it 4-1 in the 77th minute after ­another ­defensive mistake by Guizhou ­players. Another Brazilian, Muriqui, poked in the fifth goal in stoppage time.

"The title win is the best reward for our efforts in the whole year," Gao said during a pitch-side interview. "The league is becoming more and more competitive each year, but we finally made it."

Guangzhou heroes

Gao has been pivotal in Evergrande's eight successive league titles, including the second division before promotion to the CSL.

"I'm feeling like a twin brother of the team and our blood is mixed together," said Gao when asked how it felt to be a key member of the team for such a long time. "I hope I can extend my career in Guangzhou just like our big brother Zheng Zhi has been doing."

Veteran midfielder Zheng, who missed the match with injury, is now China's most successful player with a record nine top-flight titles.

Zheng won the CSL title in its maiden season with Shenzhen Jianlibao in 2004, before winning again two years later with Shandong Luneng.

After two seasons with Charlton Athletic and one with Celtic, he returned to Chinese soccer to join Evergrande in 2010.

"It's incredible to win seven titles in a row," said the captain for both club and country. "I'm proud of all my teammates. And we should be proud."

Fans were generous with their praise for Zheng.

"When Zheng returned to China as a 30-year-old in 2010, many thought he was just coming back to laze away the final days of his career," one fan wrote on Dongqiudi, a popular soccer site in China. "And now seven years later, he's still playing a vital part in Evergrande's seventh consecutive league title."

Luneng fans rue the day Zheng returned to China.

"It is said Luneng were his first choice when he came back in 2010," a fan wrote. "But the club thought he was too old and perhaps they were afraid that young player Wang Yongpo would not get enough playing time if Zheng joined the team, and so they did not sign him. What an irony!"

All praise

Chinese fans and media sang praises for Evergrande's feat of winning seven successive CSL titles.

"Evergrande are still waiting for their next challenger," wrote the Titan Sports, China's most popular sports newspaper.

National sports channel CCTV 5 congratulated Evergrande for their "unprecedented" seventh title in a row. And despite "an imperfect season" - Evergrande were knocked out of the Asian Champions League and the Chinese FA Cup - "the CSL is getting more and more beautiful for its diversity and all kinds of possibilities," the channel said on its Sina Weibo account.

Guangzhou fans expressed their happiness and gratitude to the team on social media. "Seven league titles in a row - we made it!" a fan wrote on Sina Weibo. 

"There were pains, but more importantly, there were gains! Thanks to all the players," another commented on Dongqiudi.

New coach

Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his home country Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, was not on the sidelines on Sunday night as he started a three-match ban for criticizing referees.

Despite having won the Chinese FA Cup, two Chinese Super Cups and three CSL titles in a row in his two and a half years, there have long been rumors that the Brazilian will leave the club when his contract expires next month.

It's no secret the club owners are unhappy with their poor run in the Champions League. But many believe it's not the Brazilian's fault if the team underperformed in Asia.

Scolari's contribution to the team was not inferior to Marcello Lippi, now coaching the China national team, the Nandu Daily sports section opined Monday.

"With three CSL titles and one FA Cup, Scolari has matched Lippi's record. He's even better with two Super Cups!" the Guangzhou-based paper said. "Despite controversies over his playing style, the number of titles shows that he's not inferior to Lippi in Evergrande's history."

According to Titan Sports, Evergrande have reached an agreement with Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti - fired by Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich last month - pending an ­announcement.

"All sources prove that Ancelotti is the team's first choice," the paper wrote Monday.

"And if everything goes as planned, the famous coach who has coached the likes of Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid will take over when Scolari's contract with Evergrande expires."

No matter who takes the reins come November, the new coach will face a tough task regrouping the team as it is no longer as dominant as before, both in China and Asia.

The Chinese champions have already conceded 37 goals, already a single-season high with two games remaining. After 2011, they never ­conceded more than 30 goals in a ­season. But in the 28 games, they have kept clean sheets a mere eight times. In six of those matches they were facing a team outside the top eight.

Evergrande have also been struggling with offense, having won a match by a single-goal margin eight times this season, two less than their worst record of 10 in 2012.

"Whoever the new coach is," wrote soccer journalist Ma Dexing, "the condition and challenge he faces is unprecedented. No matter if he has won the World Cup or league titles with European clubs, his first task after taking over Evergrande will be to regroup the team."

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