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Shenhua stuff it up once again

Any lingering hopes of adding to their rather bare trophy cupboard were extinguished for another year on Saturday, when Shanghai Shenhua could only tie their derby match 1-1 with Hangzhou Greentown FC. (video highlights)Needing a victory to stay in touch with the five other teams chasing the 2009 Chinese Super League Championship, Shenhua tamely surrendered in their title fight against Hangzhou, who are now something of a bogey side for Shenhua. In their six encounters since Hangzhou were promoted to the Chinese Super League in 2007, they have failed to beat their rivals from neighboring Zhejiang Province, losing one game, and drawing the other five, including their infamous title collapse on the last day of the 2008 season. Hangzhou fans naturally relish the derby, and over 1,000 made it up the road to goad their Wu dialect cousins as Shenhua slipped up again.

Despite having most of the play, and leading the game from the 10th minute when Sun Ji scored with a fantastic half-volley from outside the box, the Hongkou side fell into their old habit of sitting on 1-0 leads and were punished when Erivaldo Antonio equalized on 66 minutes after some defending which was sloppier than the end product of a poisoned spicy hotpot. All-in-all, a gutless display from Shenhua, as it were.

And so ended Shenhua’s hopes for another year. Mathematically, it is still possible for Shenhua to take the title, but the table doesn’t look good. Closing the four-point gap from leaders Beijing and Henan with just two games remaining would be hard enough if it were just one team, but with five teams in total above Shenhua, the odds would make even the most reckless gambler cringe.

To make matters worse, results elsewhere in the Chinese Super League saw hated rivals Beijing move into pole position. The capital side are now favorites to take their first-ever championship title, a scenario which would see Shanghainese of all persuasions quaking in their pyjamas with contempt. Let’s hope Henan Jianye can make up that five-goal difference in their next two games and pip Beijing Guoan to the title in two week’s time.

Shenhua play Chongqing away from home next weekend before they take on Changsha Ginde in the final game of the season on October 31.

This post was originally published on Shanghaiist.

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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