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Stalemate for Shenhua in season opener

Shanghai Shenhua and J-League giants Kashima Antlers ground out an Asian Champions League (ACL) 0-0 draw tonight at Hongkou, in a fairly underwhelming start to the 2011 season.

The game marked one of the earliest kick-offs to a Shenhua season ever – March 2. Usually the ACL starts around the middle of March, and the Chinese Super League a week or so after that. But this year’s early commencement just meant both sides looked pretty rusty out there in the chilly 6c Shanghai night. Despite the cold, over 20,000 fans made it to the match according to the official AFC report – a very respectable crowd by Shenhua’s rather mediocre attendance standards. However those who made it were treated to somewhat dull fare.

The game itself was not really worthy of a blow-by-blow account, basically Kashima controlled the first half-hour or so as Shenhua looked like none of their XI had ever played together before. However, Shenhua turned it up a notch in the second half and dominated proceedings at times, missing a couple of chances to score.

Personel-wise, few Shenhua players stood out. Argentinian forward Luis Salmeron was probably the home side’s best player. He looks like a burly target-man type striker, if somewhat overweight, and showed some nice touches. He came closest to scoring with a deft flick accross the goal which the Kashima keeper only just managed to tip wide. He could be another foreign hero in the making.

Young midfielder Cao Yunding, signed in the close season from second-tier side Shanghai East Asia, looked pretty good, making his debut in the 75th minute coming off the bench. He looked industrious and committed.

Shenhua wonderkid Feng Renliang and last seasons Chinese Super League golden boot winner Duvier Riascos played from the start, but each looked somewhat rusty. No-one else stuck out, with the possible exception of midfielder Jiang Kun who had a decent game.

It was clear both teams were fairly content with the draw. Indeed, avoiding losing your first game is a key objective of most ACL sides. In the other game in Shenhua’s group. Suwon drew 0-0 with Sydney. Elsewhere, the other Chinese participant in the ACL, last years Chinese Super League champions Shandong, went down 1-0 to Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

The earliest ever start to the ACL campaign, coupled with the latest start to the Chinese Super League since 2005 means that Shenhua now go over a month until their next home game, the league opener against Qingdao on the weekend of April 2. Their next competitive match is away to Suwon in the ACL on March 16.

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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