SIPG held to second straight CSL draw

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Shanghai SIPG shares second place in the Chinese Super League standings with Beijing Guoan on 48 points after a 1-1 draw away to Wuhan Zall on Sunday. It was the defending champion's second straight draw in the league, which is currently led by Guangzhou Evergrande on 52 points.

At Wuhan's Dongxihu Sports Center, newly signed Austria striker Marko Arnautovic started for SIPG for the first time, partnering Brazilian duo Hulk and Oscar. But it was the hosts who scored first when Liu Yun's shot three minutes into kickoff hit SIPG's post and deflected into the back of the net.

Arnautovic equalized in the 23rd minute on Hulk's assist. But the Austrian had to be substituted — replaced by Odil Ahmedov — at half-time after picking up an injury.

SIPG found it fough to break Wuhan's tight defense in the second half in the scorching summer heat, though Li Shenglong and Yu Hai went close in the last 20 minutes.

Coach Vitor Pereira said earlier that SIPG's mid-week CFA Cup clash against Evergrande had left the team with very little time to prepare for the CSL match. SIPG beat Evergrande 2-0 in Guangzhou on Wednesday in their CFA Cup quarterfinal. It will take on Shandong Luneng in the semifinal.

"Today's was the last of the three straight away matches we had to play," Pereira said after Sunday's match. "The players are all exhausted, especially in such weather conditions, so it was a very hard game for us."

SIPG's city rival Greenland Shenhua also advanced to the last four of the CFA Cup beating Tianjin Teda 3-1 on Wednesday, though Shenhua's new South Korean manager Choi Kang-hee rested some key players and sent an all-Chinese squad for the match.

Shenhua will face Choi's former club Dalian Yifang, which is now led by Spaniard Rafael Benitez, in the other semifinal.

Shenhua's mid-season coaching adjustments proved to have been successful so far. It beat Guangzhou R&F 5-3 at Hongkou Football Stadium on Saturday – its third straight victory in the last three CSL rounds.

South Korea forward Kim Shin-wook contributed a hat-trick. Captain Giovanni Moreno also scored a brace.

R&F's Israeli striker Eran Zahavi scored the opener with a free-kick five minutes into kickoff. Shenhua's attacking trio of Moreno, Kim and Cao Yunding then showed great teamwork throughout the match.

Kim has merged into the team quickly and well, scoring six goals in the four appearances he has made for Shenhua since joining the club with Choi earlier this month.

Shenhua has scored a total of 12 goals in the last three matches. Despite its patchy defense, the team seems to be on a rising path, it is now 12th in the 16-team table on 21 points — seven points away from the relegation zone.

Newly signed Italy striker Stephan El Shaarawy is yet to make his CSL debut. With the return of Nigeria international Odion Ighalo from African Cup of Nations duties, Shenhua fans are looking forward to getting rid of their relegation worries soon.

"Though we conceded a goal first, the players did not back down but kept attacking instead, and that brought us the victory," Choi said after the match. "I want my players to remember this match and keep the aggressiveness in the upcoming games."

In other 20th-round CSL matches, Evergrande beat Beijing Renhe 3-0; Tianjin Tianhai edged city rival Teda 1-0; Jiangsu Suning overcame Shenzhen FC 2-0; and Benitez's Dalian Yifang beat fourth-ranked Shandong Luneng 1-0 to climb to a shared seventh place in the table.

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