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Beckham-esque freekick not enough for Shenhua

An absolutely stunning 35-yard freekick from Shanghai Shenhua midfielder Xiao Zhanbo just three minutes from time was not enough to give his side victory in an East China derby match with Chinese Super League new boys Zhejiang Lvcheng.

It was a wonderstrike worthy of the English Premiership or Serie A — but with the home fans still celebrating, Shenhua’s teenage keeper Wang Dalei came off his line to clear speculative long ball up the park, only to collide with one of his defenders and Zhejiang striker Wu Wei. The attacker managed to stay on his feet, and was left with the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net to make it 1-1, with his opponents lying prone on the ground.

Stunned Shenhua clearly thought they had done enough to snatch victory in the closing stages — and desperately tried to regain their briefly-held lead. An injury time header from Xie Hui flew just past the post, then, unbelievably, Shenhua’s Uruguayan striker Diego Alonso broke clear and with only the keeper to beat, hit the post with virtually the last kick of the match. But it was not to be and the game finished 1-1.

The referee blew the final whistle, and in the Sunday night rain, a dejected Wang Dalei could be seen on his knees, staring at the turf and shaking his head, knowing his blunder cost his side 2 points. The 18-year-old, who had a trial with Italian Champions Inter Milan last year, will have to avoid any similar mishaps should he wish to attract overseas attention again.

Shenhua were the better side throughout and will be kicking themselves for failing to beat Zhejiang, who were playing in China’s second-level league last season. That was not lost on the 500-strong band of away fans who made the short trip from Hangzhou, and celebrated their side’s last gasp equalizer against their nearest rivals in rowdy style.

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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