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Benitez hits rock-bottom in China as search for first win drags on

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Dalian Pro coach Rafael Benitez (R) watches his players during their their Chinese Super League match against Shanghai Shenhua in Dalian, in China’s northeast Liaoning province on August 10, 2020. STR / AFP

Rafael Benitez hit rock-bottom in the Chinese Super League Sunday after Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Guangzhou R&F extended Dalian Pro’s winless start to the season.

Israeli international striker Eran Zahavi scored a first-half penalty to give R&F a badly needed 1-0 victory, van Bronckhorst’s first win as a coach in Chinese football.

However, defeat for Champions League winner Benitez — Dalian’s third in five matches this season — means his young side drop to bottom of their group with two points.

The CSL, which began five months late because of coronavirus, has been split into two groups, in Suzhou and Dalian, to prevent infections.

To rub salt into the wounds of former Liverpool manager Benitez, the match was effectively a home game for his team, because it was played at Dalian’s youth training base.

The game between two sides who were still looking for a first victory of the season was postponed by a day after heavy rain lashed Dalian on Saturday.

Torrential rain gave way to fierce heat on Sunday and the 60-year-old Spaniard Benitez had a white towel slung around his neck to wipe off the sweat.

Benitez, who took Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005 and is one of the best-paid coaches in the world, is experiencing one of the worst runs of his long management career.

He has won only seven of 22 matches since arriving in northeast China in July last year.

The former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Inter Milan coach is enduring his lowest average points return since he was sacked by Real Valladolid in 1996 after two wins in 23 games.

Benitez says that his side is the youngest in the CSL and he is committed to following through on the club’s “blueprint” of developing young Chinese players.

However, Dalian also have proven international experience with 33-year-old former Napoli captain Marek Hamsik and ex-Premier League striker Salomon Rondon.

In contrast, former Barcelona and Arsenal star van Bronckhorst can breathe a little easier and R&F now sit sixth of the eight teams in the Dalian-area group.


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