Shanghai Shenhua grabbed a priceless away victory on the road to old foes Dalian in a match played in atrocious conditions at Jinzhou Stadium on Sunday night.
Annoyingly, the game was not being broadcast on Shanghai’s Five Star Sports channel – a basketball game involving the Chinese team was being shown instead, and the state sport channel CCTV5 was showing Formula One. So your correspondent settled for watching the game online.
A torrential downpour before the match had rendered the pitch completely unplayable, but the game was played anyway. The middle of the park in particular was covered in numerous puddles of water which appeared to be at least a couple of inches deep in some places. Needless to say, the conditions didn’t make for a great game of football. This was not lost on the match commentator, who chuckled his way through the entire game, laughing as players continuously lost their footing in the slippery conditions and fell on their backsides. On a few occasions he guffawed loudly as the ball would stop suddenly on the waterlogged surface, and players would either trip over it and land on their faces, or find themselves abruptly dispossessed by patches of water.
“We can’t really consider this football,” joked the commentator, “nor is it water-ball either, [laughing], but, I believe we can at least call it a sport with a ball.”
Indeed. All in all, the commentator’s commendable efforts and the game itself made for a shambolic spectacle. If this match was being played in the UK, it would have been called off well in advance, but, in China, it seems the show must go on come what may.
The game itself saw Dalian’s opener come as a direct result of the treacherous conditions – one of many, many long balls forward during the game stuck to the ground instead of rolling safely towards the Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei. He could hardly be blamed for not being able to predict where the ball would stop, and was beaten to it by Dalian striker Zhu Ting who poked it home in the 28th minute to put the home side one up.
Shenhua manged to hit back just four minutes later however. Luis Salmeron rose highest in a bunch of players to knock home the ball with a great header from Juan Angulo’s corner to equalize for the visitors.
The momentum was with the men in blue by now, and midfielder Jiang Kun put Shenhua ahead in the 40th minute with another header in the box, again the assist coming from Angulo after a good run from the Columbian down the right wing. Jiang became the first Chinese player to score for Shenhua in the Chinese Super League this season – with the exception of this, and one goal from Angulo, all of Shenhua’s 19 goals have come from Salmeron and Riascos.
The second half saw the conditions deteriorate further and the footballing action diminish accordingly. Cao Yun Ding should have wrapped it up for Shenhua towards the end of the match when another puddle-assisted opportunity came his way, but his cute chip went just wide of the post. Dalian had a couple of late chances to grab it and should have scored with an easy header, but the rain made a mockery of the entire game and Shenhua held on for a hard-fought away victory.
In past years, this would have been a top-of-the table clash between two Chinese Super League giants. Dalian have been off the pace for a number of years now, but they are still a force to be reckoned with at home and this win is definitely a bonus for Shenhua, who are now in joint second place with Beijing Guoan, five points behind so-far-unbeaten Guangzhou Evergrande.
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