HONG KONG, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei CFFC beat Guangzhou R&F 2-1 to secure their third win in a row on Sunday and move into third place in the Chinese Super League as the battle for places in next season’s Asian Champions League heats up.
First-half goals from Brazilian striker Aloisio and Zhang Lifeng effectively secured all three points for Hebei, with Yi Teng’s effort for Dragan Stojkovic’s team proving little more than a consolation.
The win moves Hebei on to 42 points, one clear of Tianjin Quanjian, who beat Guizhou Zhicheng 3-1 on Sunday, with Fabio Cannavaro’s side having played one game fewer than Hebei.
Only the top three teams in the Chinese Super League standings will qualify for the continental club championship and Pellegrini’s side lead the way in a five-team fight for the final spot.
“I told my players before the game that we were playing for six points,” said Pellegrini.
“Both sides are tight to each other on the rankings so we had to win...
“There are five teams fighting for the Asian Champions League slots and this competition will become very intense in the final three games of the season.”
Five points cover the teams from third to seventh and Shandong Luneng were one of the biggest losers of the weekend with Felix Magath’s side slipping to fifth following their 0-0 draw with Jiangsu Suning.
Beijing Guoan also slipped up when Roger Schmidt’s side shared a 4-4 draw with bottom side Yanbian Funde, with Babacar Trawally completing his hat-trick for Yanbian in the 90th minute to deny Beijing all three points.
Guangzhou Evergrande maintained their eight-point lead over second placed Shanghai SIPG at the summit as both teams won their respective fixtures over Changchun Yatai and Tianjin Teda.
Evergrande had a Ricardo Goulart double to thank for their 3-1 success over Changchun while SIPG pushed Tianjin deeper into relegation trouble as goals from Wu Lei, Yu Hai and Elkeson gave Andre Villas-Boas’s side a 3-1 win.
Guangzhou coach Luiz Felipe Scolari hailed the influence of veteran midfielder Zheng Zhi, who was instrumental in his team’s win once again despite his age.
“Zheng Zhi’s fighting spirit and professional attitude are an example to all Chinese players,” said Scolari.
“He played for the national team but, no matter his state of mind, he always gives his best.
“He’s 37 years old but he’s like an 18-year-old and he works so hard. He is an example to everyone and it’s a pleasure for me to be able to work with such a player.”
With just six games remaining in the season, time is running out for Villas-Boas and his team to close the gap on Evergrande as they seek their maiden league title.
Carlos Tevez’s introduction off the bench could not stop Shanghai Shenhua from falling to a 2-1 loss against Henan Jianye while Chongqing Lifan handed Liaoning Whowin a 2-0 defeat. (Editing by Toby Davis)