Shenhua qualifies for ACL after beating SIPG in CFA Cup final

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua clinched its second Chinese FA Cup title and qualified for next year's AFC Champions League despite a 2-3 loss to SIPG in their second-leg final clash.
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Shanghai Greenland Shenhua players pose with the trophy at Shanghai Stadium on Sunday night, after beating Shanghai SIPG in the 2017 CFA Cup final on away goal following an aggregate 3-3 scoreline over two legs.

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua clinched its second Chinese FA Cup title despite a 2-3 defeat to Shanghai SIPG in the second leg of the final at Shanghai Stadium on Sunday evening. The victory also helped the team qualify for next year’s AFC Champions League.

It was a sad end to the season for big-spending SIPG as it failed to collect any trophy from the three major battle fields of the Chinese Super League, CFA Cup and the ACL in 2017 — a target set by the club for its Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas at the beginning of the season.

“We were close to three championships, but failed to clinch any of them. It is my responsibility,” Villas-Boas said at the post-match press conference. “But the team is ready and on the right path. Hopefully it can win something next year.”

AVB said after last week’s first leg  that he has already made a decision about his future with SIPG next season.

“SIPG club knows my decision. But it’s not the right time to talk about it,” he said when asked about his 'decision'.

Shenhua head coach Wu Jingui, who took over from Uruguayan Gus Poyet, praised his team’s performance.

“My players managed to handle the pressure both physically and mentally in the 180-minute final,” Wu told reporters. “There were a lot of difficulties in the middle of the season (when I took over). I was given three tasks of keeping Shenhua in the CSL; advancing to the CFA Cup final; and eventually winning the CFA Cup. Fortunately I accomplished the tasks.”

But Wu said he has not yet thought about his position at the club next season.

Wu’s team held a slender 1-0 lead after last week’s first-leg match at Hongkou Football Stadium and that away goal proved crucial as the aggregate score finished 3-3 after Sunday's second leg.

Shenhua started with Colombian duo Giovanni Moreno and Fredy Guarin as well as Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins but Argentina forward Carlos Tevez was still missing from its 18-player entry list. SIPG had Brazilian duo Hulk and Oscar partnering Uzbekistan’s Odil Ahmedov.

At the start, Moreno and Martins waited for opportunities from Shenhua’s counter attacks while SIPG’s first goal-bound foray saw Hulk’s quality direct free-kick in the 9th minute denied by Shenhua goalie Li Shuai.

The first goal came in the 15th when Li Shuai failed to collect a pass into the box by Oscar, allowing SIPG striker Lu Wenjun to claim the opener from the far end of the goal.

Moreno almost pulled one back for the visitors with a freekick in the 31st but for a quick-responding SIPG goalie Yan Junling, who saved Shenhua captain’s attempt in front of goal.

Despite a poor head-to-head record against SIPG in the CSL, Shenhua’s performance in the CFA Cup spoke of a different class, and the players' efforts paid off in the closing minutes of the first half.

Cao Yunding’s goal in the 42nd was ruled invalid by the referee, who insisted that Martins was interfering with SIPG goalie Yan on the goalline. But Cao found the back of SIPG’s net again two minutes later on a long pass from midfield by Bai Jiajun.

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Cao Yunding scores for Shanghai Greenland Shenhua in the last minute of the first half.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the second leg, SIPG needed at least two more goals for victory, thanks to Shenhua’s away goal.

But before Villas-Boas’s team was able to react, Martins enlarged Shenhua's advantage with a curling shot from the top of the box in the 68th.

SIPG was given a penalty in the 72nd when Fu Huan was upended by Shenhua’s Cao in the box. Hulk scored from the spot to tie the score at 2-2. The situation turned just a minute later when Moreno scored an own goal to give SIPG a 3-2 lead in the second leg, with the aggregate score now tied at 3-3.

SIPG needed another goal but Shenhua's defense held firm the rest of the way as the two sides were involved in some physical war of attrition at the end of the match.

The result left SIPG with nothing to show from a season that began promisingly and, at one time, the club seemed to be heading for a treble — the CSL crown, CFA Cup and ACL title.

The last time Shenhua won the CFA Cup title was in 1998 but this triumph must have been so much sweeter as the troubling season for the club climaxed with an unexpected victory.

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