SHANGHAI: Shanghai SIPG broke Guangzhou Evergrande’s near-decade stranglehold on Chinese football on Wednesday (Nov 7), winning the Chinese Super League (CSL) for the first time.
Fabio Cannavaro’s failure to steer Evergrande to an eighth CSL crown in a row will see the Italian legend’s future as coach thrown into doubt after a single campaign at the helm.
In contrast, SIPG coach Vitor Pereira has achieved what his more famous predecessor Andre Villas-Boas could not, winning the club’s first major trophy since its founding in 2005.
SIPG, who have the expensive Brazilian duo of Oscar and Hulk, wrapped up the title with a game to spare thanks to a 2-1 victory over Beijing Renhe.
Pereira, a former Porto coach last seen taking 1860 Munich into Germany?s third tier, praised the “spirit” of his side.
“We broke seven years of titles of Guangzhou and this is a big issue, a big challenge, and we won the challenge,” the Portuguese said, his winners’ medal slung around his neck.
“(In my) first year in China. For my career, it is good for me, I am very happy.
“I hope next season we will be here again to fight for another title.”
On a wet night at Shanghai Stadium, Uzbek international Odil Akhmedov put the champions-elect ahead in the 20th minute with a sumptuous curling effort from outside the box.
Prolific Chinese international Wu Lei made it 2-0 just after half-time, only for Senegalese striker Makhete Diop to hit back for the visitors.
The pivotal moment in the season came on Saturday, when Pereira’s side triumphed 5-4 at Cannavaro?s Guangzhou in what was effectively a title-decider.
Chinese football is attracting global interest because of the vast sums shelled out to lure the likes of Oscar – who cost an Asian-record 60 million euros from Chelsea – and Hulk.
Forward Wu was arguably the standout performer over the last eight months, however, topping the CSL scoring charts with 27 goals, including his deflected strike against Beijing.
Winning the title justifies SIPG’s decision to hire Pereira after his fellow Portuguese Villas-Boas quit following a turbulent 2016-2017 campaign during which the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager failed to lift a trophy.
SIPG fans were initially disappointed that they got Pereira rather than a stellar name.
But the 50-year-old and his side kept their nerve as their rivals faded one by one, in what was the most exciting title fight in CSL history.
“I have to thank my club because they put their trust in us and they deserved this title,” he said.
“My players did fantastic work and a fantastic season.”
Beijing Guoan, coached by the German Roger Schmidt, and Shandong Luneng had both also been in contention for three-quarters of the season.
But SIPG were relentless, losing just three times in 29 matches and winning eight of their last nine games.
Cannavaro signed the Brazilian midfielders Paulinho and Anderson Talisca on loan in the summer in an effort to revitalise Evergrande’s flagging title defence.
It worked and they belatedly emerged as SIPG’s last remaining threat, before last weekend’s home defeat to their rivals effectively torpedoed their hopes.
Evergrande will finish second and qualify – along with SIPG – for the Asian Champions League, though it may not be enough to save Cannavaro from the sack.
The final round of matches is on Sunday.