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Shenhua press self-destruct button in action-packed China Derby

Shanghai Shenhua’s slender championship hopes were laid to rest in last night’s China Derby, as defensive botch-ups handed bitter rivals Beijing Guoan an easy 4-1 victory at the Workers Stadium.

Second-placed Shenhua needed a win to try to cut the nine-point gap with leaders Shandong Luneng, who scored yet another late goal to draw 1-1 with Changchun in their Chinese Super League match played at the same time. But Shenhua’s shocking play at the back gifted Beijing three of their four goals, leaving them a virtually unassailable ten points behind top Chinese Super League team Shandong with just seven games left to play.

Your correspondent gathered with around a dozen hardcore Shenhua fans in a tiny restaurant in central Shanghai’s Luwan district, to enjoy the game on TV over some beers, after the bizarre public holiday schedule messed up everyone’s plans to travel to the match.

The game itself saw Guoan control the first half. Shenhua had Cameroonian striker N’Lend playing upfront after all, after previously been doubtful following a training ground accident. Australian striker Joel Griffiths should have scored with a close range header in the first 15 minutes, but his effort went over the bar. Guoan looked the more dangerous side, and the game became scrappy and bad tempered.

Beijing made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute when Walter Martinez went down seemingly with minimal contact from a Yu Tao challenge. The freekick was fired at a moderate pace from the edge of the box, bouncing awkardly infront of Shenhua goalkeeper Qiu Shengjiong, who spilled the ball. Griffiths reacted first to poke it home. 1-0 Beijing.

Shenhua came out in the second half looking well up for it. Your correspondent predicted on  a Modern Lei Feng before the match that Feng Ren Liang would score a long-range goal against Guoan. In the 46th minute he did just that when the ball broke to him at the edge of the box and he drilled it home for an excellent finish to make it 1-1. Sadly, that was to be all I got right about the outcome of the game.

But back in the Shanghai restaurant, our merry band of Shenhua fans went mad and jumped around the whole room, and gan bei’d numerous beers to Feng’s great goal.

Meanwhile, at Gongti, Shenhua moved up a gear following their equalizer and started to dominate the game. Feng Ren Liang was chief Beijing tormentor for the next 20 minutes or so, and half way through the second half was cynically brought down by Guoan defender Xu Yunlong when through on goal. Xu was red carded as he was the last man, and Shenhua got a free kick, when it could have easily been a penalty. Nothing came of the set piece however.

At this point, Shenhua had ten-man Beijing on the rack and the game was there for the taking. However, as Shenhua fans have witnessed time after time, this is a team with a historic inability to finish off opponents. Somehow, despite having a man advantage, Shenhua allowed Beijing to claw their way back into the game, who had a couple of excellent chances to re-take the lead. They finally did so 15 minutes from time when Huang Bowen’s soft and curling free kick into the box went between Qiu Shengjiong’s legs and into the net. Another cock-up by the Shenhua goalie, another Beijing goal.

The defensive blundering continued just five minutes later when defender Wu Xi latched onto a long ball only to knock it past out-rushing keeper Qiu, and into the path of Honduran forward Martinez for the easiest goal he will score in his whole career. He leapt onto the advertising hoardings and celebrated as if he had just let rip from 30 yards.

Shenhua had shot themselves in the foot again. How could they ship not one, but two goals, to ten men? Just when it couldn’t get any worse for Shenhua, Du Wenhui made it four for the hosts in injury time with a neat free kick from the edge of the box. Full time 4-1 to Guoan – their first win in seven games, and their first victory over Shenhua in Beijing since 2005.

Back in Shanghai, the small band of drinkers left the restaurant promptly after the game. “No point in drinking if we lost,” said Blue Devils leader Xiao Fu. Indeed so. No-one was much interested in discussing the match – the season was over and everyone knew it.

Reflecting upon the match, 4-1 definately flattered a very ordinary looking Beijing side. But Shenhua can have no complaints after such a shambolic defensive display. It was a pity because the side did dig in, especially in the second half, and they looked hungry for a result. A victory would have put them 7 points behind Shandong, and at least kept the season alive for a few weeks yet, and who knows, with Shenhua travelling to Shandong on the last day of the season, they might just have gone into that game with a chance.

But now there surely can’t be anyone who doesnt believe the championship race is over.

Elsewhere in the Chinese Super League this weekend, Dalian Shide tied 2-2 with Chongqing Lifan, Liaoning Zhongyu fell to Tianjin Teda 3-1, Nanchang Bayi played out a 1-1 draw with Henan Jianye while Shaanxi Baorong and Qingdao Zhongneng also took part in a 1-1 draw. Jiangsu and Hangzhou drew 1-1 on Friday.

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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