Evergrande falls to R&F 5-4 in a thrilling match

On a humid night during the Lantern Festival in Guangzhou, a prosperous city in southern China, Guangzhou R&F F.C. — also known as the Blue Lions — and Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C. entertained the town.

Nine goals in total were registered on the scorecard.

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C. — also known as Guangzhou Derby — has rarely ceased to entertain.

There have been 25 goals scored in the four encounters of the two local teams in 2017, and the rivalry is unusually balanced.

Guangzhou Derby, despite winning seven Chinese Super League titles and two AFC Champions League titles, has only won one more time than its local rival in the league.

Seconds into the match, Eran Zahavi started the “goalfest” by smashing the flick-on by Zhi Xiao, lobbing the ball past Dianzuo Liu, the Evergrande goalkeeper.

The header by Zhi exploited the pockets of space between the opponent’s back line and midfield, creating space for the league’s top goal-scorer of last season to run on.

Just as Evergrande started putting pressure on R&F, the Blue Lions managed to counterattack in style. It all started with an interception by Tixiang Li. The ball then went to Chen Zhizhao.

Chen then flicked to Zahavi, who laid off for Renato Ribeiro Calixto, most commonly known as Renatinho, in the horizontal position and returned the ball to release Zahavi.

Zahavi pushed back Evergrande’s back four, Zhi and Júnior Urso on both sides of him to distract the retreating defenders, and kicked the ball past Liu.

Liu bore a certain level of responsibility for being unable to save an inaccurate shot.

R&F already had three shots on the board in the first 10 minutes. However, Evergrande got one back when Haifeng Ding’s back-pass turned into an assist for the opposition’s striker Alan Carvalho, who got around the goalkeeper and scored.

Chances kept on coming and Evergrande seemed to wake up.

Carvalho’s header went way above the goal. Seconds later, Hanchao Yu’s long-range effort from 30 yards out was tipped out of bounds by a stretching Yuelei Cheng.

He later stopped Ricardo Goulart’s shot to the far corner from about 12 yards out.

A few minutes before the interval, Evergrande leveled against R&F with Carvalho scoring off a ball tipped by Cheng.

Just as the two teams were about to head into the dressing rooms, Carvalho, connecting with Yang Liyu, headed Evergrande into the lead.

Evergrande has a chance to further extend their lead as Yu Hanchao blasted the ball off the crossbar, enraging Dragan Stojkovic, manager of Guangzhou R&F, about his team’s seemingly distracted defense on the sidelines.

Three minutes into the second half, after delicate exchanges with Renatinho, Zahavi achieved his hat trick by putting his effort on the edge of the box at the far corner.

Liu’s blunder gave away the lead, letting a ball roll past the goal line. Goulart’s emphatic penalty restored the balance, changing the score to 4-4.

The decisive blow came at the 74th minute, when Xiao, receiving a pass from the adventurous right-back Tang Miao, scored a diving header.

An individual effort traversing through four defenders from Renatinho almost grabbed a two-goal lead for R&F, only for the ball to go agonizingly wide.

“This is the first time we’ve won away at Evergrande,” Stojkovic said after the match. “Both teams played in a top match tonight, and let us make Chinese football better.”

Fabio Cannavaro, Evergrande’s manager, faces a daunting challenge in 2018 as the team is getting older, and the pressure is on to get as many wins as possible.

He is still tasked with leading the team to winning as many as three championships this season.

The first game in the domestic season did not bode well for Cannavaro's second tenure at the Southern China Tigers.