Former Chelsea midfielder Oscar scored his first competitive goal on Chinese soil as Shanghai SIPG’s Brazilian superstars ended Sukhothai’s AFC Champions League dream after a 3-0 victory in a playoff in China.
Strikes from Oscar and Elkeson towards the end of the first half killed off the Thailand side’s early resistance before Kiatissak Toopkhuntod diverted Elkeson’s shot into his own net for the third.
Much of the pre-match discussion focused on the apparent mismatch between Andre Villas-Boas’ big spending outfit from Shanghai with three Brazilian imports in attack and the Thai side who had just come seventh in their first season in the country’s top tier.
But it was far from a mismatch for the first half-hour as Jason Withe’s men took the game to their hosts. However, SIPG’s superiority eventually came to the fore as their Samba stars took centre stage.
Things looked ominous for Sukhothai when, within the first 30 seconds, the hosts won a corner. But a couple of minutes later, Admir Adrovic served notice of the visitors’ intent when he dispossessed Shi Ke on the edge of the Shanghai box. The ball broke for Bireme Diouf, but the Ivorian striker overran the ball and the chance was gone.
Hulk made the first notable attempt from one of the superstars on show after six minutes. The Brazilian easily skipped past Piyarat Lajungreed before firing a powerful 20-yard strike high and wide.
Diouf was the main outlet for the visitors early on as he tried to hold the play up, and relieve the pressure on the defence.
There was a scare for Sukhothai on 13 minutes when Elkeson went down in the box under pressure from Yuttapong Srilakorn, but the referee waved play on.
It was the hosts who got a scare a minute later when a poor ball out of defence was seized upon by Piyarat Lajungreed. The full-back struck a low left-footed drive from 20 yards, but pulled his shot wide.
The home side looked happy to bide their time, confident that they would eventually wear down the vistors, but sloppiness was creeping into their play.
And they almost paid the price in the 31st minute when Adrovic squandered a fine opportunity. The Montenegrin played his way through the left side of the Shanghai defence after an excellent exchange of passes with Lursan Thiamrat. But the striker declined the opportunity to shoot and squared the ball before the danger was cleared.
Just two minutes later, the home side punctured the growing confidence of Sukhothai with a goal on the counter attack. Oscar won the ball in his own half before Odil Akhmedov surged forward and played a pinpoint ball wide for the Brazilian, who was sprinting into the box down the right. The former Chelsea man took a touch before drilling a low right-footed shot across the keeper and into the corner.
And five minutes later, the hosts went 2-0 up through another Brazilian. Hulk did some excellent work down the left before finding Wu Lei with a cross. As the Chinese striker shaped to shoot, Diouf nicked the ball off his toe. But the ball broke to Elkeson who improvised brilliantly to back heel into the net from close range.
Sukhothai suffered another blow when Japanese midfielder Hiromichi Katano was taken off injured, with Weerasak Gayasit taking his place before the break.
At the beginning of the second half, Elkeson almost added a spectacular third. He met Fu Huan’s cross with an acrobatic backheeled volley that Pairote Eiammak did well to push wide.
After a tricky opening to the match, the Chinese side were now full of confidence as Sukhothai began to tire.
The visitors were struggling to hold onto the ball as the hosts threatened a rout. In the 57th minute, Wang Shenchao’s cross from the left was met by a flashing header from Elkeson, which Pairote tipped over the bar.
But the Sukhothai keeper was again picking the ball out of his net a minute later. Fu Huan stabbed the ball toward goal from the right and Wu Lei laid it off to Elkeson. The Brazilian’s shot appeared to be heading wide before Kiatissak’s attempted clearance diverted the ball into his own net.
It started to resemble a training exercise for the home side as Sukhothai no longer had the energy to contain Shanghai’s fearsome attack.
But the visitors slowly regained their composure, and stemmed the tide with a better spell midway through the second period as they finally spent some time in their opponents’ half.
Villas-Boas’ side took their foot off the gas and looked happy to play possession football, with the game in the bag.
Sukhothai had a good chance to grab a consolation goal with five minutes remaining when John Baggio played a lovely ball into the path of Adrovic. But Yan Junling did well to close down the striker quickly and block his attempted lob.
Shanghai SIPG can now look forward to taking their place alongside FC Seoul, Urawa Red Diamonds and Western Sydney Wanderers in Group F of the ACL. Sukhothai, meanwhile, can be proud of their battling performance against a side with much greater resources.