A game between two evenly matched sides that, unlike yesterday’s encounter between Muangthong and Kawasaki, started off with furious intensity. So high, in fact, that only nine minutes in, Cai Huikang fumbled on a simple interception and let Roger Martínez snap up the loose ball to hammer the opener into the bottom corner. Beautifully taken by the Colombian. SIPG dictated the pace and kept most of the ball but watching Jiangsu in the ACL in comparison to the CSL really is like night and day and the visitors always looked threatening on the break with their South American duo of Martínez and Alex Teixeira up front and a goal was really on the cards on either end. After half an hour of play Hulk broke through the Jiangsu defence and was brought down by Li Ang‘s sliding tackle and the Iraqi referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Hulk himself and although Zhang Sipeng went the right way, the hefty Brazilian hit the ball far too hard for the Jiangsu-keeper to keep it out. The match continued to be wonderfully entertaining and Hulk came close to getting another goal when he powered a volley on target in the 37th minute. This time though, Zhang was lucky to see the ball come right at him and was able to steer the ball clear for a corner. It was two teams focused on scoring goals and in the dying minutes of the half, SIPG did just that. Once again, it was Hulk who made it happen as he took on two defenders deep into the box, used some trademark Brazilian moves to slip past and, more or less, fired the ball via the head of Odil Akhmedov into the net. The Uzbek did very well to react quickly and steer the ball towards the open goal. The hosts was the marginally better team overall in the first 45 minutes but 2-1 could just as easily have been 3-2 or 3-3 at the break.
The teams picked right back up where they left off after the break. SIPG seemed to think a one goal lead wasn’t enough for the second leg and Jiangsu, especially Martínez, went for every opening that the Shanghaians left at the back. The main man of the evening, though, was still Hulk. Whether setting teammates up or creating the space for himself to shoot he was at the centre of everything that happened near the Jiangsu goal. Despite both team’s best efforts, the second half remained goalless and the final result of 2-1 is one that Jiangsu will, no doubt, be more satisfied with. Already looking forward to the reverse fixture of what was the best 90 minutes of football I’ve seen in the ACL.