There are some things in life that don’t have an explanation, and the same happens in football. During the fourteen seasons I coached in Spain, there was one stadium where I was never able to win with any of the teams I managed: the Olympic Stadium of Montjuic, home of RCD Espanyol. My last visit there was as coach of RCD Mallorca and I remember shaking hands with the then president of Espanyol, Daniel Sánchez Llibre, and commenting “I am leaving this stadium for the last time and I have never won here”. In one of those curious turns of life, the following season RCD Español moved to its new stadium in Cornellà, the Power8 Stadium. At the time, I was coaching Sevilla FC and we played our last match of the season at their home ground. I thought that perhaps my luck would change in this new stadium, and we also needed to win that game in order to end up in fifth place, ahead of Atlético de Madrid and Athletic de Bilbao, and avoid the preliminary rounds of the UEFA Cup. Indeed, the bad streak ended that day; we won by 2-3 and secured a position in the UEFA Cup. That was my first victory against Espanyol at their home ground, although not at Montjuic, but at Cornellà.
Now the same thing has happened again in China. In the two seasons I have been coaching Beijing Guoan there was only one team that I hadn’t managed to beat until now: Shandong Luneng. Last season they beat us at home (0-3) (they are the only team so far to have done so in both seasons), we drew at their home ground (2-2) and to top it all off, they knocked us out of the Chinese Cup in the penalty shootout. In our first match this season, they beat us at their home ground (3-0). Finally, last Wednesday we played the second leg game at our Stadium and beat them (3-1) after putting on a great game in front of our 50,000 fans. It was a great victory and it has allowed us to keep alive our hopes of fighting for the title, like we did last season against Evergrande. The difference is that this year we are competing against four teams. There are still eight matches left so anything can happen, especially because our last game will be at home against Evergrande. Will the League be decided in that match? Just like in real life, anything is possible…
Gregorio Manzano Ballesteros
Head Coach of Beijing Guoan Football Club