Alexandre Pato struggles as Tianjin Quanjian slump vs. Guangzhou R&F
Fabio Cannavaro blamed the quality of the pitch at Yuexiushan Stadium for Alexandre Pato's poor performance on his Chinese Super League debut for Tianjin Quanjian as the newly promoted side slipped to a 2-0 defeat against Guangzhou R&F on Saturday.
Pato missed a string of chances as Xiao Zhi and Renatinho scored to give Dragan Stojkovic's side all three points on the day when big-spending Shanghai SIPG thrashed Changhun Yatai 5-1 and Felix Magath's Shandong Luneng notched up a 2-0 win over Tianjin Teda.
"It seems his performance was affected by the pitch," the Italian World Cup winner said of Pato's disappointing showing. "Our tactics were more about ground work, but the conditions didn't allow us to execute that well.
"But we also have to show appreciation to the goalkeeper of the other team who successfully stopped a few good shots. Pato achieved what I asked him to achieve, both in running and defence."
Tianjin spent heavily in the transfer window, luring Axel Witsel as well as Pato to the club and Cannavaro's team are expected to push for a place in the upper reaches of the standings, but the former Juventus and Real Madrid defender sought to dampen expectations after the defeat.
"This is football. It is not a simple loss," he said. "We should review it carefully, keep the good parts and improve the shortcomings.
"We have lots of young faces. We are a team with a history of two years, meaning we have more young players. And we can't use the foreign players as we wished due to the new regulations.
"We need to build the team gradually, but I have faith in my young players. We fought together last season in the second tier league and we won the title together."
SIPG, meanwhile, were forced to come back after going behind to a wonderful strike by Fan Xiaodong, with Elkeson claiming a hat trick and Hulk scoring from the penalty spot as Andre Villas-Boas' Brazilians made all the difference against Changchun Yatai.
Fan scored in the 26th minute with a dipping strike that beat Yan Junling to his left from well outside the area, but Hulk levelled the scores from the penalty spot after Oscar had been upended.
Elkeson then finished a move involving his compatriots to give SIPG the half-time lead before scoring with a header six minutes after the resumption and completing his hat trick just ahead the hour mark. Wu Lei added a fifth in the dying seconds.
In Jinan, Shandong had to wait until the 78th minute to take the lead through Liu Binbin and four minutes later Papiss Demba Cisse ensured Luneng started the season with a win.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch