Shanghai Shenhua finally got their season underway with their first victory of 2007 — against none other than last year’s runaway Chinese Super League champions, Shandong Luneng Sunday afternoon.
It was a huge game for Shenhua and a near-capacity crowd basked in the Pudong sunshine. A relatively large away support contributed to a great atmosphere as the banter between the Shenhua faithful and Shandong’s orange-clad ultras flowed thick and fast.
Merger-related chanting was, this time, reduced to a small sideshow — perhaps because, for the first time this season, the team started with more players from last year’s Shenhua than from Shanghai United. Shenhua 6 – United 5, as it were. Hostility to the merger was not absent however, a flag saying Huan Wo Shenhua (Give Me Back Shenhua) was held aloft amongst the fans, presumably for new owner Zhu Jun’s benefit.
The most surprising omission from Shenhua’s starting 11 was promising young goalkeeper Wang Dalei who made way for former Xi’an keeper Zhang Chen to make his competitive debut for Shenhua. Champions Shandong were without midfield kingpin Zheng Zhi, who is currently on loan to London side Charlton in the English Premier League.
The game got off to a controversial start when Shenhua’s Uruguayan import Sergio Blanco had the ball in Shandong’s net after just three minutes, but the goal was chalked off for an infringement. Cue loud chants of hei shao (black whistle, Chinese football fan’s way of saying the referee is corrupt.)
Despite the glorious sunshine and big-match atmosphere, the first half was a little lacking in entertainment value, excepting a Shandong shot which ricocheted off the post and back into play.
The teams re-emerged after the break and not long after they did midfielder Yu Tao sent the home fans into raptures. The ball fell to him outside the box and he finished with aplomb, sending a low drive just inside the post into the corner of the net (see YouTube clip at the top of this post).
Shandong stepped it up in an effort to get back into the game and had a great chance to equalize, but Serbian Aleksandar Zivkovic hit the woodwork when it seemed easier to score. Shenhua too had their chances, with a goalbound shot cleared off the line (which your correspondent somehow managed to capture on film) and a placed effort from Blanco, which floated harmlessly into the Shandong keeper’s hands when he should have scored.
Shenhua held on though for a slightly fortuitous victory and a result which will keep the 2007 Chinese Super League championship wide open.