In previous years it was the most eagerly awaited fixture on the Chinese football calendar. Dalian and Shanghai Shenhua, the two pre-eminent footballing powers in the country, have 10 championship titles and seven runners-up honours between them in the 14-year history of the Chinese professional league. The fact that all the runners up spots, and only two of the ten titles belong to Shenhua, made it all the more poingant in their crushing 3-1 victory over Dalian at Hongkou Stadium on Saturday night.
For Dalian are a team in decline. With only one league title in the last five years, the north-eastern side were nowhere near the championship last season or the year before. And this season, they currently languish 13th in the 16-team Chinese Super League. Indeed, this fact was not lost on the Shenhua fans, who gleefully taunted the small band of Dalian travelling fans with chats of Dalian dui jiang ji! (Dalian team, get relegated!) and Dalian dui sha bi le ba, Xian Zai hou hui lai bu ji le ba (Dalian team, now realise you are stupid c*nts, but its too late you find this out )
The game itself was worthy of such terrace banter. Dalian got off to a solid start and looked the more promising team in the opening stages. However Shenhua broke the deadlock on 20 minutes when Chen Liang headed in from a corner to send the home fans wild. The celebrations had barely ceased when Jiang Kun added another, scoring an absolute topper of a goal 60 seconds after the restart. The ball was squared to him at pace from the right and he hit a first time shot from about 25 yards out which screamed into the top corner, leaving the Dalian keeper without a chance in hell. Dalian were on the ropes already and they never recovered from these two sucker punches for the rest of the match.
Proceedings remained very entertaining however and an audacious long range overhead kick from Costa Rican striker Erik Scott hit the post and went out. The action was flowing thick and fast by this point with Shenhua uncharacteristically appearing to forget they were two goals ahead.
Following half time, Dalian were beginning to look like they were running out of ideas. Scott again went close, waiting for the ball to come down at the edge of the box before hitting a clean shot which pulled of a great save from the Dalian keeper. Honduran Emil Martinez really should have scored when fellow central American Scott threaded a ball to him into the penalty box, but the goalie pulled of a great close-range save to keep the score at two-nil. However it was no surprise when Shenhua added a third on the 58th minute following a bit of a goalmouth scramble. The ball was played in from a corner and headed onto the bar, and amidst flailing limbs, the ball fell to defender Du Wei at the edge of the six yard box and he knocked it to finish Dalian off.
From then on in the game was completely over as a contest and the pace dropped off rather abruptly. The steamy, humid Saturday night had also taken its tool both on the spectators and the players as everyone just went through the motions during the closing stages. Dalian grabbed a late and somewhat undeserved consolation goal right at the death, but by the the Shenhua faithful were in great voice – 3-1 against the once-mighty Dalian was quite a result. Check out the match highlights – and don’t miss Jiang Kun’s fantastic second goal.
Shenhua have now one seven of their eight home games so far this season and results elsewhere this weekend see them sit third in the table just three points off leaders Shaanxi Barong. A combination of a break for the Olympics and their next games being on the road mean that Shenhua do not play their next home game until September 28.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Pollack