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AFC Champions League: Shenhua 1-2 Sydney FC

Shanghai Shenhua’s troubled start to their 2007 campaign continued Wednesday night at Yuanshen Stadium in Pudong after they slipped to a 2-1 defeat to A-League side Sydney FC in the Asian Champions League.

Yesterday, an Australian newspaper wrote complete and utter bullshit about Shenhua being called “The Shanghai Thugs” because one, yes, just one, of their squad was involved in the Chinese Olympic Team fracas against QPR a few weeks ago. And who exactly did the paper say had coined this new name for Shenhua? Ah yes … “some people”. In other words, just the usual sensationalist bollocks which so erodes the public’s faith in the press.

Perhaps shocked to discover a lack of general thuggery, Sydney were 2-0 up after 23 minutes with two lovely goals, the first coming from veteran socceroo Steve Corica with a deft volley over Shenhua keeper Yang Dalei. Ufuk Talay made it 2-0 with a tremendous long range shot from outside the area.

A disappointing crowd of around 8,000 were treated to an entertaining match on a rather chilly Pudong evening, during which Shenhua put in a far better performance following last Saturday’s national derby debacle. Despite their rip-roaring start and excellent goals, Sydney barely had a another shot on goal after going 2-0 up except for an effort towards the end of the first half which clipped the post before going out. Not that the pockets of conspicuous Sydney fans dotted about the stadium cared — their team switched to a defensive formation for the rest of the match.

Shenhua came out fired up in the second half, with your correspondent’s man of the match, youngster Mao Jianqing, causing havoc for Sydney’s left flank — and being the target for the somewhat physical style of the Australians. The Shanghai side almost scored from a goalmouth scramble halfway through the second half, and had the crowd gasping shortly afterwards with a lovely free-kick that hit the bar and bounced back into play.

Veteran and fan favourite Xie Hui finally broke Shenhua’s duck seven minutes from time with a bullet header from a freekick but it was too little too late and Sydney hung on to record a victory in their first ever ACL match.

Shenhua were very unlucky not to take anything from the game, but its goals that count and Sydney scored two very fine efforts which their opponents were unable to match. It also didn’t help that the wrangling from the controversial merger continued as former Shanghai United players were given a furious reception from the vocal-as-ever Shenhua faithful.

The next Asian Champions League fixture to be played in the city will be on April 25 and could be a potentially juicy clash as the opposition comes in the form of none other than Japanese Champions Urawa Red Diamonds. Unfortunately, according to the ACL website, the game kicks off at the ridiculous time of 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon. One can only speculate as to the reasons behind this odd scheduling policy.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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