Shanghai Shenhua kept up their atrocious record against east China derby opponents Hangzhou Greentown with an insipid performance that led to a 1-0 away defeat on Saturday night.
Since Hangzhou’s promotion to the Chinese Super League in 2007, Shenhua’s record against their nearest neighbours reads W1, D7, L3, putting the men from down the road squarely in the bogey team category.
Stacking the odds even further against Shenhua was the fact that a number of first team players were unavailable due to being included in China’s Olympic (under-23 squad) qualifier against Oman. One can only try to guess wildly as to why such a match was being played just one day after a round of Chinese Super League games. Shenhua asked Hangzhou to postpone the fixture in light of this, but being the bad sports they are, the derby rivals refused. It tells you everything you need to know about the way Chinese football is run that Hangzhou were allowed to do this and that the Olympics game was scheduled when it was in the first place.
The end result was that Shenhua were minus first choice keeper Wang Dalei, first choice midfielder Cao Yunding, and first choice defender Wu Xi. Wide men Song Boxuan and Jiang Jiajun, both first team regulars this season, were also away on Under-23 squad duty. Reserve striker Dong Xuesheng was called up for Olympic duty too. To make matters worse, first choice defender, the solid and cultured Dai Lin, was injured, leaving Shenhua with a rather threadbare defence.
The match was played in Yiwu, another city in Zhejiang province almost twice as far away as Hangzhou is from Shanghai, unfortunately your correspondent didn’t make it and took in the game at home on TV with a couple of friends of Shenhua persuasion. We quickly witnessed the most unfortunate consequence of Shenhua’s decimated first team – Qiu Shenqiong was playing in goal. Quite simply, this butter-fingered individual is not Chinese Super League standard – as we have learned before. Almost every time he went up for the ball, he dropped it. In fact, the first half consisted almost entirely of scrappy play leading to a Hangzhou attack, Qiu Shenjiong fluffing various shots and the ball being scrambled away by the makeshift Shenhua back four.
It was no surprise then, that after an uninspiring first half where Shenhua barely had a shot on goal, it was a defensive lapse which lead to Hangzhou’s winner. Reserve defender Wang Lin tried to cut out a through ball in his own box but lost control and the ball ended up at the feet of Uruguayan midfielder Paulo Pezzolano who poked the ball home on the hour. 1-0 Hangzhou.
That was about it in terms of action worth commenting on. Salmeron had the ball in the net around the 65 minute mark, but his header was adjudged to be offside. The lack of a useful camera angle in the highlights means no light can be shed as to whether he was indeed offside or not. In the closing stages, Hangzhou should have wrapped it up due to a mistake from – who else? – fumblemaster Qiu, who rolled the ball out to one of his defenders without looking to see who was around him. The ball ended up with a Hangzhou striker who took too long to shoot, Qiu managed to get back to block his shot and redeem himself slightly.
So Shenhua fall to fifth in the league, five points off big time-charlies Guangzhou Evergrande, who are so far unbeaten in first place. After the match, back in your correspondents front room, our group of disappointed Shenhua fans sat disconsolately through the after-match analysis on Shanghai’s “5 Star Sports” channel. The experience of watching a game on a Chinese sport channel had been pretty much like watching a sports channel anywhere in the world – eye-catching intro visuals, energetic theme music, two anchors in suits blethering about the match, statistics and analysis at half-time and post-match, and male-orientated adverts at half-time for beer, shaving products, cars, etc. It was all so normal.
But suddenly, things deviated wildly from the standard sports-channel script when a very curiously-attired figure appeared on-screen post-match, to perform some kind of stand-up routine asking whether fishing is really a sport or not. Punctuated by canned laughter and wild shrieking from a crazed individual lurking off-screen, it was delightfully incongruous, in a unique manner only China can deliver. The rather camp young man was wearing a maroon shirt and a slate-grey blazer with the sleeves very strangely cut-off at the elbow. His flamboyantly ridiculous outfit was topped off with a bright yellow bow-tie which held one’s gaze like a moth to a glowing light bulb. At one point, he limp-wristedly pointed to a caption on the right of the screen and read it, saying “for the next 25-minutes, there will be no adverts.”
Of course, that was nonsense, and the TV was blaring out deodorant and car oil commercials at the top of its voice before the advert-free clock had even reached double figures. His routine was amusing in its own stupid way, if only because it made us laugh thinking about how such a bizarre and effeminate repertoire would go down alongside Hansen and Shearer on the BBC’s Match of the Day.
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