CSL Preview: Shandong Luneng eye top spot
Shandong Luneng are primed to take over the Chinese Super League's (CSL) top spot if Hangzhou can do them a favor this weekend.
Hangzhou will host CSL leaders Guangzhou Evergrande on Sunday and if they can at least hold the dual-reigning champions to a draw, Shandong will edge to the top of the league table with victory at home against lowly Wuhan Zall.
Shandong will host 14th-placed Wuhan knowing a ninth win for the season will at least keep the pressure on leaders Evergrande and Luneng are in fine form, following a 3-1 win in the Chinese FA Cup over Shijiazhuang Yongchang Junhao; their fourth victory in a row in all competitions.
Romanian striker Marius Niculae notched his third goal for Shandong since joining the club in February to give Luneng the lead in the 24th minute on Wednesday, peeling off at the back post to volley Leonardo Pisculichi's cross into the net.
Pisculichi doubled the home side's lead a minute later when his corner took a deflection off a Shijiazhuang defender and into the net before the visitors struck just before half-time.
But any hopes of a comeback from the second-tier club were dashed six minutes into the second half when Wang Gang slotted the ball home, following a fine through-ball from Gilberto Macena, as Shandong wrapped up a spot in the fourth round of the Chinese FA Cup.
Evergrande lead Shandong on goal difference heading into the weekend's CSL action with both sides on 25 points but the league-leaders, who have a game in hand over Luneng, face a tough trip to seventh-placed Hangzhou.
Hangzhou have not lost at home this season and with Evergrande having also played mid-week, notching a 3-0 victory over Central Coast Mariners in the AFC Champions League (ACL), the match looks ready for an upset win to the hosts.
While Evergrande have advanced to the quarter-finals of ACL after a 5-1 aggregate triumph over the Mariners, China's other club in Asia's premier continental club competition, Beijing Guoan, will have to pull themselves together after a disappointing loss on Tuesday.
Beijing, who are fourth in the CSL, were stunned 3-1 by FC Seoul to be dumped from the ACL but should be too strong for 11th-placed Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday.
In other CSL fixtures, Liaoning Whowin will host Jiangsu Sainty, Qingdao Jonoon are set to take on Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou R&F will play Dalian Aerbin.
Elsewhere, Guizhou Renhe will travel to Tianjin Teda and Changchun Yatai are up against Shanghai Shenxin.