In a shockingly-good Chinese Super League match, Shanghai Shenhua fought back from behind twice to beat Tianjin 3-2 at a hot and steamy Yuanshen Stadium in Pudong last night.
Intricate link-up play, shots on goal flying in from all angles, breath-taking saves and crunching last-minute tackles where the hallmarks of a game where one could scarcely believe a Chinese league match was in progress.
The tell-tale signs were still present however when an act of ineptitude led to Tianjin going in front against the run of play. Shenhua’s normally reliable defender Du Wei woefully miss-hit a pass back to keeper Wang Dalei. He could only watch in horror as it rolled into the unguarded net to give Tianjin a thoroughly undeserved lead with a proverbial bizarre own goal. Shenhua were shaken but stirred into action and hit back just five minutes later when a Saul Martinez cut back was courageously knocked home by Sergio Blanco who dived headlong into a mass of splaying feet to connect with a low header.
The tigerish midfielder was running things in the middle of the pitch as Shenhua pushed hard in an effort to take the lead. But with the home defence under-manned and all at sea, Tianjin somehow managed to regain the lead when China international Wu Weian pounced on a lose ball at the edge of the box to fire home a low shot in style.
Such a sucker punch might have floored Shenhua earlier in the season, but the team and the rejuvenated home support showed they had put their merger issues behind them and rallied the team after boss Osvaldo Gimenez brought on promising youngster Mao Jianqing and new signing Hamilton Ricard. An out-of-sorts Saul Martinez was taken off.
A rusty crescent moon gazed down upon proceedings in Pudong as the floodlights hazily illuminated the stuffy night air. A group of Germans to your correspondents left stood, beers in hand, belting out their own chant which received polite but appreciative applause from Shenhua’s surrounding Blue Devil supporters.
In the heat of this most typical Shanghai summer evening, shots on goal rained down on the away net, with the Tianjin keeper having to perform all manner of heroics to keep his side in front. Chinese international midfielder Yu Tao, sporting a black headband, was unlucky when the ball fell to him on the left and his long range low shot was met with gasps as another wonder save from the away keeper kept Shenhua behind.
It really did look like a question of how long Tianjin could hold out and that man Sergio Blanco gave the answer 20 minutes from time when he finished off a move following a great deal of neat build-up play with a well taken effort.
By now, Shenhua had the bit between their teeth and Uruguay international Diego Alonso should have put his team in front but could only head a tasty Mao Jianqing cross over the bar. Hamilton Ricard too, looking dangerous whenever he got the ball, put a team-mate through with a delightful ball but the Tianjin keeper made an awesome point-blank save to keep his side in with a shout of taking a point.
But just when it looked like it might not be Shenhua’s night, Ricard gave his side the lead with a diving header in the box to send the home support into raptures. Cue an onslaught from Tianjin as they looked to salvage something from a match where they had led twice, but heroics from Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei kept his side in the lead, before boisterous celebrations greeted the final whistle. The Shenhua squad also paraded the A3 cup following their success competition, as players and fans saluted one another.
Overall it was the kind of action-packed match which comes along just about often enough for sad football addicts like Shanghaiist to regularly attend local games. It was certainly the most fun we had in Pudong since our first trip on the maglev.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015