Xiao Zhi the hero as Guangzhou R&F win thrilling Canton derby
Eran Zahavi and Alan Carvalho both scored hat tricks but it was Xiao Zhi who claimed the winner as Guangzhou R&F handed seven-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande a 5-4 defeat in a frantic Canton derby to kick off the 2018 Chinese Super League season.
Xiao's 75th-minute header was the difference between the sides at the end of a remarkable game where defending took a backseat and early questions are already being asked about Evergrande's defence of their title.
The defeat was only the second time since Evergrande were promoted to China's top flight in 2011 that the club have lost their opening game of the season and coach Fabio Cannavaro -- in his first league game since returning to Guangzhou -- admonished his players for their slow start.
"At the beginning we weren't fully concentrated on the game," said Cannavaro. "Once we finally focused, the scoreline changed.
"I told my players that R&F is a team that makes a strong start to the season. I repeatedly told them this. R&F have done this for years.
"Of course, games at Tianhe are never a normal game and the effort they put in must be stronger and I don't want to accept the players conceding two goals in just 10 minutes.
"The CSL is getting harder and harder and you have to focus form the very beginning of the match."
Evergrande made a pedestrian start and were punished accordingly as Zahavi struck twice in the opening 10 minutes to give the visitors the lead.
The first came just two minutes into the game with a fine dipping strike from outside the area and the lead was doubled eight minutes later with a low drive, also from outside the area.
Cannavaro's team finally woke up and, three minutes later, Carvalho claimed his first of the night when he pounced on Ding Haifeng's error to score with ease.
With six minutes remaining in the half, the Brazilian struck again as he netted from close range after Ricardo Goulart's header came back off the crossbar and by half-time Evergrande were in front when Carvalho steered his header over the line from inside the six-yard box.
Evergrande's lead survived for four second-half minutes as Zahavi completed his hat trick with another effort from outside the area while Junior Urso's goal put R&F back in front with a scuffed effort from the edge of the area that somehow found its way past Liu Dianzuo.
Goulart made it 4-4 from the penalty spot in the 69th minute after Zhang Linpeng was brought down in the area, but Xiao had the last word when his header of Tang Miao's cross beat Liu at his near post.
Meanwhile, Anthony Modeste scored twice as Tianjin Quanjian made an impressive start to life in the CSL under Paulo Sousa with a 4-0 demolition of Henan Jianye. Axel Witsel and Sun Ke were also on the scoresheet.
Shanghai Shenhua saw Oscar Romero score his first goal for the club, but Fan Xiaodong levelled the scores as Wu Jingui's side were held to a 1-1 draw by Changchun Yatai.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch