Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan conjured up an absolutely fantastic game of football on Saturday night, stirring Hongkou stadium into frenzied cauldron of passion, which spilled out into the streets at the final whistle.
“Five splendid goals, one classic match” (“五粒精彩进球，一场经典比赛”) beamed Sina sports.com, and there was no better way to put it. And with three goals in the opening 12 minutes, “it was a game to cause latecomers endless regret,” Sina’s reporter Chen Hua also wrote.
It was a magic game. Full of incident from start to finish, it was fantastic advert for football anywhere, never mind the much-maligned Chinese Super League. Chinese football has deservedly been much-criticised in the past, but Saturday night’s game was a joy to behold. If all the games were even half as good as this one, China would be a footballing paradise.
Both teams went straight for the jugular right from kick-off, and after just 5 minutes, Beijing were ahead when their Australian striker Joel Griffiths scored with a great volley. Beijing’s knot of several hundred fans in the upper NE corner of the ground made themselves more than heard. Shenhua didn’t take it lying down though – a mere five minutes later, Shanghai Cameroonian Jean-Michael N’lund laid off the ball at the edge of the box to defender Dia Lin who rifled it home from 20 yards on the volley to send Hongkou wild.
With the Shenhua fans still in full song after their swift equalizer, youngster Feng Renliang broke down the left hand side, beat his man and lobbed an inviting cross into the box. N’lund met it perfectly with his head to put Shenhua 2-1 up with just 12 minutes on the clock. By now, Hongkou was on fire as Shenuhua took complete control of the game.
Shenhua’s plan to close down Beijing early was clearly paying off with their shell-shocked visitors unable to make much headway. A clever through ball put Colombia forward Duvier Riascos one-on-one with the Beijing goalkeeper. Hongkou held its breath for what seemed like an age. Could Shenhua score a third goal against their most hated rivals?
Riascos advanced closer, and neglected to shoot early, as the tension became unbearable. Just when it looked like he had stuffed it up, out of nowhere and at close range he pulled off an amazing chip which flew into the net for a finish most sublime. Hongkou went nuts, as Riascos ran over to the fans and thew his shirt into the crowd with unrestrained joy and did a back flip (pic), before getting himself booked for over celebrating, sheepishly bowing bare-chested in front of the ref for his indiscretion. And so, a Shenhua legend was born.
With their side now 3-1 up after just 30 minutes in what is usually a very tightly contested affair, Shenhua fans naturally couldn’t contain themselves, smashing the noise barrier with wave after wave of supersonic celebrations. The stadium resonated as Shenhua’s Blue Devils ultras group went through their repertoire of anti-Beijing chants, living up to their reputation as China’s noisiest and most full-on fan group.
Half-time then, and we had already seen more action in the first 45 than in Shenhua’s preceding few games put together. Whilst trying to find some beer at half time, your correspondent witnessed some angry scenes on the concourse, as Shenhua fans surged towards Beijing fans coming down from the upper tier to go to the gents. police with batons kept things from getting nasty but insults, bottles, cans and crude sexual gestures were exchanged between the rival fans. It was all so refreshingly universal.
The protagonists soon dispersed and made their way back in for the second half – no-one dared take their seat late after the barn-storming start to the first half.
Predictably, the second half belonged to Beijing, and the pace did not let up one iota. Shenhua managed to mount a few good attacks, and Riascos should have wrapped it up but shot wide mid-way through the second half. A spectacular goal-line clearance follow for Shenhua, as Beijing looked to claw one back. The action just didn’t let up as N’lend hit the post with a placed shot, before Beijing finally got the break through when Joel’s brother Ryan Griffiths scored with an excellent shot from outside the box to make it 3-2 with 80 minutes on the clock.
Shenhua held on for a nail-biting last ten minutes for a famous victory, to get party time officially underway for the Shenhua fans, as they spilled out onto the walkway and stairs leading to the elevated metro station for wild and unrestrained celebrations, chants general jumping up and down in big groups and burning of Beijing Guoan team shirts which was met by huge cheers.
Conspicous on the night was the relatively large number of foreign spectators – a fact noted on the Shenhua website, with several enthusiastic fans interviewed in this video clip, amid the wild celebrations.
Hongkou has a few regular foreign fans from all sections of Shanghai’s international community, but your correspondent was pleased to see so many indulge in football’s universal appeal with the local fans. It’s much harder to be pissed off at a Chinese person for pushing in front of you in the queue or pushing past you to get on the metro once you have gone apeshit celebrating a goal with them on the terraces.
Shenhua went back to the top of the league and pushed their rivals down to 5th in the process. Their next home game is against Changchun this Sunday at Hongkou, kick-off 7.45. If you’ve really been bitten by the bug, you can watch them playing their next game away to Shenzhen on Shanghai sports on Wednesday night at 7.45pm.
Shenhua fans can indulge themselves in a spot of Schedenfruede by reading Beijing Guoan’s side of the story, on the excellent Modern Lei Feng.