By Michael Church
TOKYO (Reuters) – Shanghai SIPG all-but clinched the Chinese Super League on Saturday as Vitor Pereira’s side fought back to snatch a dramatic 5-4 win over defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande to move to within one point of securing the title.
Victory in the nine-goal thriller at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium moved SIPG five points clear of second-placed Evergrande with two games remaining and a draw against Beijing Renhe on Wednesday would be enough to give the big-spending Shanghai side their first trophy.
The win was SIPG’s second in the league this season over Guangzhou meaning last year’s runners-up have a better head-to-head record over Fabio Cannavaro’s team, a deciding factor if the teams were to finish level on points.
“This is only a three-point game,” said SIPG assistant coach Felipe Almeida, who stood in for Pereira as he served the last of a three-game touchline ban.
“Evergrande has achieved very good results in the last seven years and we have not won the championship.
“Our goal is to win every game. We still need one point. The next two games will still be very difficult to play.”
SIPG trailed 3-2 at halftime with Evergrande’s Paulinho claiming his second of the night in first-half stoppage time after Alan Carvalho had also scored for the home side to cancel out goals from Lu Wenjun and Cai Huikang.
But Wu Lei’s 26th goal of the season levelled the scores five minutes into the second half before an own goal from Zhang Chenglin put SIPG back in front with 11 minutes remaining.
Hulk made it 5-3 from the penalty spot with a minute left and although Guangzhou — desperate to maintain their push for an eighth consecutive title — pulled one back through Carvalho’s penalty in the 95th minute it proved too late.
Shandong Luneng went a step closer to claiming third place with a 2-0 win over Changchun Yatai that moved them four points ahead of Beijing Guoan, who drew 0-0 with Tianjin Quanjian.
At the bottom Guizhou Zhicheng’s fate was sealed with a 2-0 defeat to Guangzhou R&F which consigned them to relegation to China League One.
Tianjin Teda’s hopes of pulling clear of the drop zone were hit by a 1-1 draw with Chongqing Lifan, leaving the clubs level on 29 points but with Teda in the second of the two relegation spots due to an inferior head-to-head record.
Henan Jianye gave their survival chances a boost with a 2-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua thanks to Ricardo Vaz Te’s brace.
Dalian Yifang slipped to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Beijing Renhe and Jiangsu Suning handed Chris Coleman’s Hebei CFFC a 3-1 loss.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Martyn Herman)