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Shenhua late show keeps Shandong champagne on ice

A goal just  minutes from time from Duvier Riascos gave Shanghai Shenhua a 3-2 victory over Shaanxi Chanba in an action-packed game, to delay Shandong Luneng’s championship party for another week at least.

Shandong could only draw 1-1 in their provincial derby with Qingdao, a result which means they need just one point in their game away to joint-bottom Nanchang on Wednesday night to seal the 2010 Chinese Super League title. Shenhua mathematically can still take the crown – but they would need Shandong to lose their remaining three games, and overcome a 13-goal deficit.

Despite Shenhua’s virtually non-existent title chances, the match against Shaanxi was a superb game and a great advert for the Chinese Super League. It featured three splendid goals from Shenhua which would not have looked out of place in a top European league (see the video clip at the top of the post). There was also an added edge to proceedings with the presence of a relatively large travelling support of 100 fans or so – their number swelled by a dozen or so fans of Inter Shanghai. Shaanxi began life as a football club in Shanghai before relocating in 2006 to Shaanxi provincial capital Xian and changing their name and colours.

With the match yet to begin, Shenhua’s Blue Devil ultras indulged in a slagging match with their former city rivals, chanting Guoji Shabi (International stupid cunts) in an allude to Shaanxi’s former life as Inter Shanghai. The abuse and chanting continued throughout the game, with the Inter Shanghai fans’ presence most likely to do with media rumours that Shenhua bribed their way to the title in 2003 – a year when Inter Shanghai finished runners-up. Several chants came from the Inter/Shaanxi fans to this effect.

The match however started off with most in the sparsely-populated Hongkou stadium expecting it to be something of an end-of-term affair. Little of note happened until the 20th minute when, inevitably, former Shenhua favourite Mao Jianjing scored against his former club. His shot from the right hand side of the box, with two defenders right on him, took Shenhua keeper Qiu Shenjiong by surprise and it rolled into the net between the keeper and the near post. It was another shocking error by Qiu following his inept display against Beijing Guoan a month ago.

Not long after, Shaanxi hit the post when the ball fell to one of their strikers in the six yard box. Shenhua then went back on the attack and pulled one back with a cracking curled shot from the edge of the box from youngster Song Boxuan, which took a slight deflection as it went in. It was his first goal for the club, and a fine one indeed it was.

His good work was undone however just before half time when Shaanxi’s Qu Bo was left unmarked in the box as a cross from the right came in. He made no mistake and knocked the ball into the net and off the post.

Half-time Shenhua 1-2 Shannxi. The interval was marked by an amusing incident involving a female television reporter from a Beijing news channel who, in a somewhat misguided decision, was attempting to file a report to camera right infront of Shenhua’s Blue Devils. Everytime she began speaking the camera, the Blue Devils chanted Beijing Shabi (Beijing stupid cunt) and cause her to have to start again. It’s not clear what purpose the report was for, or even if it was aired due the constant foul-mouthed interputions, but it had most of the north end terrace guffawing with laughter. So much so, even the Shaanxi support joined in with the scolding of the Beijing journalist, chanting lv mao gui (green-haired turtles, a insulting term for Beijing Guoan FC.)

The second half saw a strange incident where Shenhua had the ball in the net, but only after the referee blew his whistle to award the home side a penalty for handball. After a brief delay whilst everyone tried to work out what was actually happening, Duvier Riascos, the Chinese Super League’s top scorer, stepped up, but balloned his effort over the bar much to the disbelief of the Shenhua support. It looked at this point as if Shandong were about to officially become Chinese Super League champions for the second time due to a Shenhua missed penalty, after Hamilton Ricard’s shocking miss for Shenhua against Hangzhou on the last day of the 2008 season.

Shaanxi goalscorer Mao Jianqing was substituted midway through the second half, to be roundly abused by chants in the Shanghainese dialect as he left the pitch.

Shenhua rallied and with about 15 minutes left to go, club captain Yu Tao stepped up to blast a free kick from about 20 yards out into the top left of the net. Another Shenhua goal, another cracker.

With the crowd now thoroughly on their side, Shenhua had the momentum and sealed the victory in the 86th minute when Riascos atoned for his penalty miss with a dazzling solo effort. He took the ball just inside Shaanxi’s half and ran at the defence. Vicente ran to Riascos’ right and acted as a decoy, leaving Riascos to dummy his way around the defender and the goalkeeper to slot the ball home and send Hongkou wild. It was yet another great goal for Shenhua and completed what was the best game at Hongkou all season with the possible exception of the 3-2 victory over Beijing back in May.

Elsewhere in the Chinese Super League, relegation-threatened Chongqing beat Beijing 2-1 to dent the capital sides Asian Champions League (ACL) hopes, whilst Dalian beat Jiangsu 1-0 to overtake Beijing and move into the 4th ACL qualification spot. Hangzhou slipped out of the top four, drawing 1-1 with Changchun, whilst Tianjin beat 2004 Chinese Super League champs Shenzhen to go third and put their opponents bottom of the league. Liaoning beat Nanchang 1-0, who remain in the dangerzone, as do Changsha who lost 2-1 at home to Henan.

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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