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Shandong go nine points clear

A hard fought victory for Shanghai Shenhua in Liaoning and a revenge win for Beijing over Shandong Luneng at the Workers’ Stadium, putting Shenhua just three points behind Shandong, and setting the scene for an exciting championship run-in. That was the ideal scenario most Chinese Super League (Chinese Super League) observers had in mind before last night’s games.

Sadly, for the neutrals and Shenhua fans anyway, exactly the opposite happened. Shenhua had barely a shot on target and slipped to a 1-0 defeat away to Liaoning, whilst a bumper crowd of 45,000 fans watched Guoan ship a last minute goal to lose 3-2 at home to Shandong. It was their first victory in the capital for ten years and put them nine points ahead of nearest rivals, Shenhua.

Han Peng opened the scoring for Shandong, continuing his streak to net his 13th goal of the season. Xu Liang drew the scores level with a penalty for Beijing, before Julio Cesar de Leon put the visitors back in the lead. An unfortunate Mourtala Diakete’s own goal looked to have given Guoan a share of the points, but Lu Zheng snatched victory for Shandong, and most probably their 4th league title, right at the death. Indeed, the Shandong players celebrated as if they had won the title. And as well they might, frankly.

Shandong have been the form side of late, winning 10 of their last 12 games.  Shenhua, who were something of an unknown quantity this season having sold so many first team regulars, looked like champions in the first third of the season. But they have struggled badly since the summer break for the World Cup, looking like the Shenhua of old, namely, squandering points against inferior opposition, not killing off teams, playing poorly during the summer months, and generally lacking any fight or willpower whatsoever.

Indeed, Blue Devil’s Shenhua fan club member Ma Hai Ping told Wild East Football: “Shenhua are playing in exactly the same half-hearted way they always do, even although we changed almost the entire team and have a new coach. We played this way before Zhu Jun took over also. It must be the feng shui at Hongkou stadium.” As probable a theory as any.

So, excepting an unlikely Shandong collapse, and an even more unlikely run of good results for Shenhua, Luneng are as good as champions. The Jinan side sit nine points ahead with 8 games left. Shenhua look good for an Asian Champions League spot, but overcoming the 9 point gap looks beyond them, as they have some very tricky fixtures to come, including a trip to hated rivals Beijing and a final game visit to Shandong.

So, all Chinese Super League 2010 season bets are off, as it were. Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate metaphor for a scandal-plagued league, but never mind.

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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