Another night of quality entertainment at Hongkou stadium in match that saw Luis Salmeron score a hat-trick and Shenhua dominate from start to finish. The home side could have had an even higher goals for tally were it not for some great saves from the Chengdu keeper.
Your correspondent had been enjoying the pre-match hotpot and beers perhaps a little too much with his dining companions at the restaurant next to the stadium. We were hidden in a private room due to a lack of seats elsewhere and lost track of time, unable as we were, to see the many other groups of fans leaving to head into the stadium.
We made it into the ground with barely enough time to see the ball fly into the net from Luis Salmeron’s header from Jiang Kun’s corner. A good start, 10 minutes gone and Shenhua were one-up. Unbeknownst to our party, Chengdu had the ball in the net before we arrived, but it was righly chalked off for offside, as the video highlights clearly show.
Shenhua began to take control and dominate their inferior opponents. Chengdu suffered financial problems during the close season, breaking their link with Sheffield United (but keeping the “Blades” moniker) and almost going out of business. Their squad was hastily re-assembled under the Australian / Scottish boss Lawrie McKinna, and with the team just back in the Chinese Super League after their 2009 relegation for match-fixing, Chengdu are going to have a job staying up.
Midway through the first half, Shenhua’s rampaging central defender, Dai Lin, played the ball past a Chengdu attacker in his own box. He was never in any danger of losing the ball, until he ran too far and didn’t spot another Chengdu player still in a forward position. Dal Lin was spared further embarassment as the surprise chance given to Chengdu came to nothing.
The Hongkou crowd didn’t have to wait long for their favourites’ next goal. It was created by Shenhua’s pint-sized midfield dynamo, Cao Yunding. He got the break of the ball after a couple of challenges in the centre of the pitch. His pin-point accurate threaded pass found Salmeron at the edge of the box. He turned inside the last defender and curled a placed shot around the keeper for a sublime finish – Shenhua went in 2-0 up at half-time and in full control.
In the second half things continued along a similar vein, that is, one-way traffic with only the very occasional forway into the Shenhua box by Chengdu. Cao Yunding started off another great chance, this time columbian wingback Juan Angulo ran in from the right and fired a low shot which the Chengdu keeper saved. But soon enough, it was 3-0, again Salmeron in the thick of the action as his header from another Jiang Kun corner hit young midfielder Peng Xinli’s legs and went into the net for an own goal in the 49th minute.
The game slowed a bit, with the points clearly in the bag for Shenhua. Salmeron got his hat-trick in the 66th minute, with another assist from Jiang Kun who held off his marker to deliver a low ball across the face of the goal which Salmeron couldn’t miss. He completed his hat-trick by slotting home from close range to make it 4-0.
But just one minute later, Chengdu grabbed a consolation goal from Peng Xinli who made ammends for his OG to finish very tidily at the near post from a cutback from the wing.
Salmeron left the pitch to a standing ovation ten minutes from time. He was ironically replaced by Duvier Riascos, who Shenhua fans learned will leave the club during the summer break. But with Salmeron on this kind of form, perhaps Riascos wont be missed as much as is feared.
All in all a solid victory for Shenhua. Your correspondent was surprised to see a group of foreign fans underneath the elevated metro station after the match, celebrating wildly. This intense ritual is reserved for victories over big clubs such as Shandong or Beijing – beating Chengdu at home is very much expected so only a few others joined in. Instead they were surrounded by curious passers-by and other Shenhua fans who looked on in good-natured amusement. Its always good to see enthusiasm of any kind for Chinese football though, especially as it seemed the attention of many fans was focused on a certain match taking place at Wembley stadium later that night.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015