Sydney FC fought tooth and nail against Shanghai SIPG to earn a draw in a breathtaking 3-3 result at Jubilee Stadium in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday night, but it might have been more.
Leading 3-2 with scarcely two minutes plus stoppage time remaining, a turnover in midfield allowed SIPG to launch a quick counter with Brazilian star Elkeson snatching a point for the Chinese champions in a thrilling contest.
The Sky Blues did not have to wait long to take the lead, taking the lead with just three minutes gone after Siem De Jong’s shot deflected off Shanghai defender Wei Zhen.
The home side could not hold their lead though as SIPG’s Brazilian superstars Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson began to show their class, and it was the former Chelsea man who assisted the opening goal for Lu Wenjun.
A dubious handball gave Sydney a penalty which in-form stiker Adam Le Fondre slammed into the back of the net. But once again, Shanghai equalised and this time, Hulk was the creator. He crossed for Yu Hai, rounding out what was a breathtaking half.
Veteran Alex Brosque came off the bench to give Sydney a goal late into the game and they looked destined for a historic victory. However, the Sky Blues could not hold on as Oscar stole the ball in Sydney’s half before setting up Elkeson for the equaliser.
— FOX Sports Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) April 10, 2019
Sydney go head to head with Chinese giants
Before the start of the crucial ACL clash, few may have expected Sydney to compete at such a level with SIPG, who boast an embarrassment of riches in their squad.
Straight from the start though, Steve Corica’s men showed their intent as they went against the idea that they will sit back deep and counter, instead pressing high and not giving the opposition defenders any time to think.
It quickly paid dividends with their goal coming in the opening minutes, and although it was fortuitous given it was deflected into the net, it is exactly the type of luck that Australian teams have failed to capitalise on in the ACL.
Sydney showed their intentions as they continued to attack even after taking the lead, once again getting on the right side of Lady Luck as they won a penalty which Le Fondre dutifully fired home.
In what’s been a somewhat inconsistent season for Corica’s side, this was a much needed performance against one of Asia’s biggest teams. It will give fans hope that their team can go on to do big things this season in the league if not in the continental competition.
The Sky Blues’ efforts comes at an important time and maintaining these levels for the Sydney Derby on the weekend as well as league leaders Perth Glory next week will reveal just how far the team might go this season.
— Sydney FC (@SydneyFC) April 10, 2019
Too much space for Hulk and Oscar
In the days before the game, Corica stated his plan to keep Hulk and Oscar quiet was based around tightly marking them, telling a media conference: “We want to try and double as much as possible. Stop them, get bodies around them and don’t give them space, which they like.”
It is an obvious plan, and it makes sense. Shanghai’s Brazilians are some of the best players to ever play on Australian soil, so get defenders to help out rather than leaving them one-on-one and it should help in nullifying their skills.
Except they very rarely did that, and both Oscar and Hulk took advantage of their lax defending for both their goals in the first half.
In the first instance, Oscar was left alone with Rhyan Grant and comfortably got a cross away which was headed in by a teammate. The second was a mirror image as this time Hulk, on the opposite flank, took Michael Zullo to the cleaners and got a cross away, which was easily put in by Yu.
Either not enough time was spent honing the game plan, or there was, and the players failed to execute. Both are concerning, and Sydney need to be far more disciplined in the return fixture in a couple of weeks’ time.
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) April 9, 2019
Sydney’s progression chances take a blow
Considering Sydney took the lead three times and gave it up each and every time, this game will feel more like a loss than the hard-fought draw that it was, and the point will feel bittersweet when Sydney fans wake up in the morning.
Indeed the dejection could be heard in defender Alex Wilkinson’s voice when discussing the match with the Fox Sports panel post-game.
Sydney’s next ACL match is a rematch in Shanghai and with only two points from their three opening games, depending on results elsewhere, anything but a win could put them out of contention in the tournament.
This performance will give Corica’s men hope that they can do it in the return fixture in China but they will need to shore up their mistakes and keep the same level of work-rate if they want a positive result.