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Shanghai SIPG’s AFC Champions League success a team effort, says homegrown hero Li Shenglong

Doha: They may boast some of the biggest names in Asian club football, but Li Shenglong praised the importance of Shanghai SIPG’s collective strength after his two goals helped the China PR club to a 2-1 AFC Champions League win over Sydney FC on Thursday.

The striker scored a pair of second half headers to overturn a 1-0 half-time deficit, giving Vitor Pereira’s side a winning start to their belated Group H campaign, and putting them on track for their fifth consecutive knockout stage appearance.

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After being recognised as the Player of the Match, Li acknowledged his side’s early struggles but praised their ability to pull together as a decisive factor in their recovery.

“Today I scored two goals, but (the win) is not only from me. It’s from the whole team,” said the 28-year-old.

“We just finished the league in China and came here for the Champions League directly. At the beginning, we were not in the best form today but we didn’t get influenced by that.

“We conceded one goal but through the whole team’s efforts we turned the match around. I think it’s our teamwork that made this happen.”

Group H - MD1: Sydney FC 1-2 Shanghai SIPG FC

To many outside of China, Shanghai SIPG are synonymous with their big-name imports, with star Brazilian internationals Oscar and Hulk playing key roles in the club’s 2018 Chinese Super League title win, as well as their regular excursions to the latter stages of the AFC Champions League.

But, with Oscar missing through injury, and Hulk’s run of matches without a goal in open play stretching to 11, it was Li, born and raised in Shanghai, who emerged as the star of the show at Khalifa International Stadium.

With his team trailing following Trent Buhagiar’s seventh-minute opener, Li headed home Aaron Mooy’s cross to level the match with just under half an hour remaining, before netting the winner with an even better finish in the 79th minute.

Li, who has spent his entire career playing for clubs in his hometown, said it was important for SIPG’s quality local players to contribute to the team’s success as much as their more illustrious teammates.

“In our team we have big players like Oscar, like Hulk, and both of them have stayed in our team for many years, but in real life they don’t act like big players,” declared Li.

“They are very easy-going to be with, and we are happy to stay together and learn from each other. I think foreign players have their advantages, but we Chinese players also have our own advantages, so we think we learn from each other all the time."

“Oscar was not playing today, and our first-choice goalkeeper Yan (Junling) was not playing, but we Chinese players play as a team, and try our best to prove that our team is not easy to beat.

“I’m very happy with the result today and I always extend my opinion with our excellent foreign strikers. Playing with them is a chance for me to improve, and to score more goals.”

With the first of six group stage matches delivering the maximum three points, Li and Shanghai SIPG will return to Khalifa International Stadium to face Korea Republic champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

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