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Early AFC Champions League exit for Shenhua

Despite chalking up their first point of their 2007 AFC Champions League campaign, Shanghai Shenhua are out of the competition after being held 0-0 by J-League champions Urawa Reds yesterday.

On a gloriously sunny Pudong afternoon, both sides failed to impress, with an Urawa header against the crossbar in the second half the nearest either team came to scoring. Ironically, the loudest cheer of the day was reserved for captain of the Japanese champions, Nobuhisa Yamada, who was sent off with 15 minutes remaining under what can only be described as very controversial circumstances. Shenhua were unable to make their numerical advantage count, despite good running in the midfield. Their final ball into the box lacked any edge and apart from a Xie Hui header which flew just wide of the post in the closing minutes of the match, they never looked like scoring.

Shenhua bow out of the competition with two games still to play. They are seven points behind Urawa, six behind Sydney FC, and five behind Indonesian outfit Persik Kediri in the group standings. Only the group winners qualify for the knockout stages.

Given the absurd weekday kick-off time of 4pm, a respectable turnout of around 3,000 or so made enough noise to make up for those who couldn’t get off work early — no doubt eager to indulge in China-Japan type shenanigans. Much to your correspondent’s amusement, Shenhua’s fans chanted in English to get the message across to their Japanese rivals. We’re sure “F**cking Japan!” was heard loud and clear on the other side of Yaunshen Stadium.

Before the match, your correspondent, as an obviously foreign-looking chap, found himself in the extremely rare position of being asked for directions by a group of passers-by who at first glance appeared to be locals. Bemused, we soon realised that they were actually Japanese football fans.

Indeed, the most notable aspect of the afternoon was the relatively large number — over 1,000 — of Urawa Reds supporters who made the trip over the East China sea. Just watch this impressive clip. This figure is far bigger than the number of travelling fans normally seen at Chinese league games. It’s only fair to point out though the economic advantages Japanese have when travelling to China. It was also clear that the Japanese consulate’s warnings to the Urawa fans not to fly the Japanese flag or wear club colours had fallen on deaf ears. There wasn’t any sign of trouble however and the red-shirted Urawa supporters mingled freely with their Shanghainese hosts on the Pudong streets after the match.

For all the China-Japan rhetoric, the similarities in the fan culture of the East Asian countries was much in evidence. China, Japan and South Korea all launched professional football leagues in the early to mid nineties, and fans initially borrowed heavily from the images of European and South American soccer they are exposed to with such regularity on TV. But now, watch any J-League, K-League or Chinese Super League match and you will see the three have developed a distinctive style between them. Whether its slogans daubed in English on banners, fans at the front of the stands with 10ft high flag poles which are raised aloft only when goals are scored, or massed dancing which involves moving a long way from your seat, that quirky East Asian football fan style is something Japan and China have in common.

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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