Tianjin TEDA – Club 2 – Season 4 – Update 6
Its Champions League final day! The first leg of the pentagon challenge could be crossed off today if we can beat Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Ittihad over two legs. The time for talking is over - lets see how we got on…
There were a couple of league games remaining before the final and we managed to round off our season in decent form with a win and a draw, meaning we secured 3rd place in the league and Champions League football for another season.
Congratulations to Guangzhou who have blown away the competition with year and finished a massive 11 points ahead of us. Overall, a fairly poor year from us considering we were the reigning champions, but a win in the Champion League would make sure this season would go down in history nonetheless.
Champions League final
The first leg of the final was taking place at our Water Drop stadium, not the best as I would prefer to go away from home first, however it did give us the chance to get a lead in the first leg before travelling across the continent in a weeks’ time. There was a sell-out crowd for the game and things got off to an exciting start with both teams going out to attack from the off.
The first big chance of the game fell to Al-Ittihad as we gifted them a silly penalty after just 14 minutes and gave them a great chance at getting a cheap away goal. Jadsom stepped up for them, but he was no match for Hu Shuo who dived brilliantly to his right hand side to keep the ball out of the net! And the penalty seemed bring us to life as we sucker punched Al-Ittihad on the break just 2 minutes later with Bing Zhu sweeping home from a deadly cross.
The goal seemed to take the life out of our opposition, and we began to dominate proceedings and could have scored 2 or 3 more times before the break. I was delighted with our performance and the player went out for the second half in high spirits, giving the 60,000 fans in attendance more to cheer when Niu Shuai doubled our lead midway through the second half. At 2-0 Al-Ittihad knew they had to try and grab an away goal, but our defensive solidity proved too strong as we ran out winners by 2 goals to nil.
After the game I was confident that we could secure the cup in the second leg, until I realised that we would be missing 4 first team players for the second leg! Centre back Zhu Chenjie and midfielders Saeter and Ibanez were all suspended after picking up too many yellow cards throughout the tournament. With Gojak also not registered, all of our best midfield 3 were unavailable to call on in the biggest game of my career.
With a heavily weakened side for the second leg I was worried that our two goal lead might not be enough, and this worry was not helped when just 3 minutes into the second leg, Al-Ittihad took the lead through some sloppy defending to make it 2-1 on aggregate. Luckily, we still had our superstar strike force available and Rafaelzinho eased the nerves just 4 minutes later, scoring a massive away goal, meaning that Al-Ittihad now needed to score another 3 goals on the night to overcome the 3-1 deficit.
This didn’t seem to phase our Saudi Arabian opponents as they scored again on 21 minutes to make it 3-2 on aggregate and our weaknesses were continuing to be exposed whenever they came forward. At half time I made the decision to fight fire with fire as our attack was our only area that was at full strength and we managed to push back the waves of attacks at the start of the second period. And as we approached the final 15 minutes Al-Ittihad’s efforts became desperate and they began to throw bodies forward in search of the 2 goals that they needed. However, with their defence exposed we managed to wrap us to tie with a second goal from Rafaelzinho with 77 minutes on the clock!
We had done it – the Asian Champions League title was ours!! One continent crossed off the list with 4 more to go!
Overall a very interesting season, and one I will never forget with our historic first Champions League win! I think we have been quite lucky considering how poor our league season has been, but clearly the players were focused on winning the biggest prize in Asia and who can blame them?
Once again an incredible first season for Bing Zhu with 28 goals in 39 starts. For a new player so come in a force their way into the team, considering how good Rafaelzinho and Ma Jin have been is pretty remarkable and I’m very happy that he is tied down for at least one more year. Rafaelzinho and Ma Jin have continued to have solid seasons yet again with a combined 38 goals this year, a truly incredible partnership over the years I have been here.
I would have to say one of my players of the season, particularly the second half, has got to be Chen Yun. Brought in as a back-up to our midfield trio, he has actually managed to force his way into the starting lineup, scoring some crucial goals this season, including the winner in extra time against Western Sydney Wanderers. Overall, he has recorded 6 goals and a massive 10 assists in his 25 starts this year and has also managed to force his way back into the Chinese national team squad.
Finally, another shout out to our fantastic fullbacks who seem to have had a competition going for the most goals and assists for the past few years now. Remarkably, both Li Qi and Tang Hui have both finished this year with 4 goals and 9 assists. They are so crucial to the way we play and I think their importance often goes unnoticed at times – definitely two of my favourite players during my time here.
The Fans Player of the Season award has actually been given to Saeter, who I also think has had a fantastic year. Another player who seemed to be in the shadow of Ibanez and Gojak, but has flourished this year with the highest number of assists (12) and 5 goals to go with that.
A fantastic end to the season, and to my time here in China as I will be resigning shortly (given that I have nothing further to achieve in Asia. I would have considered staying to compete in the Club World Cup (as the winner of the Champions League in each continent participates in this), however the new style competition has come into effect now, meaning that this only takes place once every 4 years so I have decided to resign now. To be honest, I am still amazed we managed to get through the final with some many key players out, but I couldn’t be more happy that we did!
*My next update will be an overview of my time with Tiajin TEDA, a fantastic journey over 3 years to get to be Champions of Asia! I will once again be selecting my 2 favourite players from my time in China – let me know who you would select! Thanks for reading!*