The Olympic Sports Stadium was the site of two ancient Chinese cities battling it out on the football pitch this past Sunday evening. The two teams, Jiangsu Sainty and Shaanxi Chanba, are both located in cities that were once capitals of various dynasties and governments throughout China’s history. Nanjing was last capital of the Republic of China in 1949 while Xi’an was capital last during the Tang Dynasty which came to an end in the 10th century.
Putting the illustrious histories of these two cities aside, both teams came into the match looking for a full three points. Shaanxi was coming off a 1-0 victory against Shanghai and Jiangsu was hoping to make it two home victories in a row after defeating Changchun two weeks prior. With perfect weather and a large crowd, including roughly 60-70 loyal Shannxi fans, the night was set for an enjoyable affair.
The early goings of the match were slow with neither team able to set up anything of note. In the 20th minute Shaanxi was forced to make a substitution as forward Tomáš Oravec left the match with an injury. He was hurt a few minutes earlier and tried to tough it out but the pain proved too much for the Slovakian and former Shanghai Shenhua man Mao Jianqing was called on to take his spot.
Shaanxi would have the first opportunity of the evening in the 22nd minute when Chinese international Yu Hai handled a free kick from 25-30 yards out. The shot was low and on goal, but it lacked power and Jiangsu keeper Guan Zhen proved more than able as he easily collected the ball.
The home side then took control of the match as they created a slew of opportunities starting in the 25th minute. Forwards Tan Si and Sun Ke hooked up at the top of the box allowing Su to fire off a rocket that deflected off the cross bar and out of bounds. Two minutes later it would be the third striker, Cristian Dănălache, with a near miss. The Romanian showed an excellent piece of skill has he guided the ball through three Shaanxi defenders to set himself up for a shot with only the keeper to beat, but alas the ball was shot high. Dănălache showed his frustration by hitting the ground with his fists, resembling a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. His frustration would be turned to joy in the 32nd minute as Australian Alex Wilkinson took a pass just inside the Shaanxi box and flicked it into the air allowing Dănălache to power home a volley. It was the first goal of the season for the 28-year old striker.
Determined to level things before half, Shaanxi upped the pressure on the Jiangsu defense. In the final minute of the period the visitors had their best chance of the evening as a cross was delivered to a Shaanxi player who headed it on target only for Guan Zhen to block the shot. The blocked shot didn’t go far though as it bounced right to another Shaanxi player about 12-yards out. With Zhen out of position the ball was blasted on goal, but luckily for the Jiangsu faithful defender Eleílson was standing between the posts and cleared the ball off the line. The Brazilian showed why he’s been a fan favorite for years.
Despite being up 1-0 the hosts were the ones that came out of the gates running in the second half. Just a few minutes into the second period and Sun Ke was brought down in the box. The referee waived play on to the anger of the home crowd. Watching it live I thought Sun went down a little too easy and after watching the reply online I’d still argue that the ref made the right decision. I wouldn’t say Sun flopped, but the foul was definitely embellished.
Another Jiangsu shot that went just wide in the 56th minute showed that head coach Dragan Okuka wasn’t satisfied with a 1-0 lead as the home side kept the visitors against the ropes in the early part of the second half.
The game started to get a little chippy later in the half. The ref was being rather nitpicky, and if anything I’d say the majority of the questionable calls went against Shaanxi. On the sideline the Shaanxi coach, Milorad Kosanović, wasn’t about to hide his emotions as he let his body language express his displeasure with the refereeing. On the pitch the Shaanxi players also let their frustration get the best of them as Yu Hai, while disputing a yellow card, said something that rubbed the head ref the wrong way and he gave Yu quite the talking to.
Shaanxi did their best to level the score, generating a handful of decent shots although none of them were on target.
One of the more memorable occurrences came in the 80th minute when Dănălache went down after being kicked by a Shaanxi player. I’m not even sure if there was much contact, but Dănălache went down like somebody took a hatchet to his leg. Rolling around on the ground with one hand clutching his foot with the other covering his face in an attempt to hide the agony he was (or wasn’t) experiencing. Shaanxi would have nothing to do with his antics and refused to kick the ball out of bounds. After taking the ball all the way up to Jiangsu’s final third a hard pass went directly into Liu Jianye’s face, causing the midfielder to crumble to the ground. The ball was then kicked out. Two stretchers were brought out, one for Liu and one for Dănălache. Guess which player didn’t actually need to be carried off.
Acting as if he’s never heard the story of the boy who cried wolf, in the final minutes Dănălache went down again, rolling around showing signs of great pain. This time he didn’t stay down as long, but one can’t help but wonder what would happen if he actually was injured, would anybody take notice?
Regardless of his antics, Dănălache would be my man of the match. He pestered the Shaanxi defense all evening and showed some flashes of brilliance. This was without question one of the better Chinese Super League matches I’ve seen this season. The level of play was high enough for any football fan to appreciate. The away contingent of Shaanxi fans helped add to the excitement during the evening, so a big shout out to them for making the 600-mile trek.