Tension will fill the air this evening at Hongkou Football Stadium when China meets Japan in a major continental club football competition. Shanghai Shenhua play host to J-League Champions Kashima Antlers in the Asian Champions League in an all-or-nothing encounter which will decide who qualifies for the knockout rounds.
Your correspondent was present last time Shenhua hosted Japanese opposition in 2007 when 3,000 Urawa Red Diamonds fans flocked to Yuanshen stadium. On that day, the match kicked off at the absurd time of 4pm on a weekday afternoon, meaning attendance wasn’t at its highest. This time, common sense – a quality normally conspicuous by its absence in Chinese football – has prevailed and the match will kick off at 8pm at Hongkou stadium TONIGHT.
Shenhua are really up against it tonight in an effort to qualify from Group G but they do have a chance. They must beat Kashima and hope that South Korea’s Suwon fail to beat group whipping boys, Singapore AFFC. This scenario is unlikely but Singapore’s confidence was boosted when they drew 1-1 at home with Shenhua in their last match.
However, Shenhua’s continental competition record makes grim reading. Despite being perennial runners-up in the Chinese domestic league championship, they have seldom progressed beyond the early stages of any Asian club cup contest. In their last foray into the ACL, they suffered a humiliating defeat against Indonesia’s Persik Kediri. This meant they finished bottom of their group which contained eventual Asian champions that year Urawa Reds and A-League side Sydney United.