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Shenhua 3-2 Jiangsu Sainty: That’s entertainment!

This is the first match report on this game, giving a Shenhua fan’s perspective. Coming soon elsewhere on the site is an account from ‘s Kenneth of how Jiangsu Sainty fans saw it.

In a match that will surely be remembered for many years to come, Shanghai Shenhua battled back from two goals down to snatch a 3-2 victory with a goal in the dying seconds of the contest on Saturday night.

With the rainy season now underway in east China, the match was played in damp and humid conditions. And although the weather seemed to keep a lot of Shenhua fans at home, with the stands looking noticably barer than usual, it didn’t deter Jiangsu Sainty’s ultras who brought the biggest away contingent seen at Hongkou for many a season of around 700 or so fans. They were flanked by similarly large contingent of regular and riot police on all sides – heavy and serious security arrangements in stark contrast to those experienced that very same evening by ‘s Bcheng at Hanghai stadium in Zhengzhou.

This match however could be considered a local derby. Nanjing is just over 250km northwest of Shanghai, which in China terms is just up the road, making Shenhua Jiangsu Sainty’s closest team geographically and a mere four hours away by bus for travelling supporters. Sainty fans certainly seem to love to hate Shenhua – your correspondent travelled to Nanjing last year as Jiangsu hosted Shenhua for a Chinese Super League match, and not only did the Nanjing fans try to storm the Shenhua end en-masse, but our bus windows were smashed in an incident which took place after the game which none of us witnessed on account of being locked inside the stadium for our own safety. As far as the rivaly goes, the feeling isn’t mutual – Sainty were in the Chinese second tier for about 14 years before finally being promoted to the Chinese Super League in 2009 and tend to finish in the bottom half of the table, so there’s not much history there, and Shenhua have bigger fish to fry as it were.

The game itself kicked off to steady rain and both sides struggled to play any decent football in the wet conditions. The damp weather and dissapointing turnout certainly did not affect the intense atmosphere – with the numerous Jiangsu ultras only a couple of hundred meters away from Shenhua’s Blue Devils in the upper tier, both sets of fans constantly goaded each other and kept the noise level extremely high for the whole game.

There wasn’t much in the way of goalmouth action for the first half hour at all. But Sainty took the lead on the half hour mark with what was probably the first shot at goal by either team. A run down the left wing from Jiangsu’s attacker resulted in a cutback from the touchline to midfielder Lu Bofei who slotted it home with a low shot which slipped under keeper Wang Dalei’s body. It was something of an unexpected blow, the game had unremarkable to the say least until that point. And it got much worse for Shenhua just 5 mintes later when a cross into the box was missed by Wang Dalei and leaving Peruvian midfielder Paolo de la Haza the simplest of tasks to head home from point blank range. Your correspondent continued his recent habit of missing goals, having been in the gents relieving himself when he heard the roar of the away support. The Sainty ultras in the upper teir were going nuts, Shenhua fans were shaking their heads in disbelief, this was a game they were expecting their side to win. Half-time 2-0.

During a customary wonder onto the concourse during the interval to enjoy a swift beer or two, I bumped into ‘s Kenneth who was also going for a half-time stroll. He was wearing a beaming smile, along with many of his comrades. We attracted some puzzled looks from riot police who were forming a shield around the concourse entrance to the Sainty fans’ toilets to prevent any would-be troublemakers from kicking off, but they let us talk anyway and we found ourselves behind a line of black-clad guys with truncheons. However, with Kenneth also being a Seattle Sounders fan, I found it amusing to introduce one of our number who happens to support that teams bitter rivals, Portland Timbers. Different sides all round for Kenneth and myself that night.

The rain had stopped by the time the second half kicked off, and both sides started knocking the ball around a bit better. For reasons best known to himself, Shenhua coach Xi Zhikang had left two of his best players on the bench at the start of the match, Duvier Riascos and Feng Renliang. But both found themselves starting the second half in a big tactical switch. The change had a the right effect and Shenhua came out looking determined and full of purpose. They got the break they wanted when in the 50th minute, when roving defender Dai Lin made a run into the box and was clattered to the ground by Sainty’s Zhou Yun. It looked a bit soft at the time but the replay shows that it was a pretty rough challenge – I’ve seen penalties given for much less. Regardless, Shenhua’ s big, burly Argentinian number nine Luis Salmeron smashed the resultant spot-kick home with aplomb.

Shenhua were in control now and pushing hard for the equalizer. With Sainty on the rack it looked like a matter of time before the equalizer would come – indeed it only took ten minutes. Jiang Kun beat the keeper to a low ball at the back post and shot from a tight angle. A Nanjing defender did well to stop this effort on the line, but he lost his footing in the process, leaving the ball bouncing on the line. It seemed to take an eternity, but with the defender left lying prone in the goal, Salmeron couldn’t miss and blasted the equalizer home from point blank range to send the home support into raptures – 2-2!

The fightback had clearly knocked the stuffing out of Sainty who didn’t have any answer to Shenhua’s counter attacking play. Feng Renliang should have put Shenhua ahead when he did well to get into a scoring position in the box but he put his shot wide. The pressure was really on Jiangsu, but when a freekick from Shenhua in the closing stages hit the post, it looked like they were going to be able to hang on for a draw.

But step forward Duvier Riascos. The Nanjing keeper ran out to try to clear A low Salmeron pass forward, only to be beaten to it by Riascos who by now was at the byline just outside the edge of the box. Somehow, Riascos managed to get around the keeper on the byline and make his way towards the goal – which was now guarded by four Nanjing defenders and a scoring opportunity not immediately looking that likely. The Nanjing back four was clearly wondering who Riascos was going to cut it back to, but Shenhua fans know their number 8 much better and he somehow eased away from the touch line and clipped the ball into the net for an absolutely unbelieveable 90th minute finish. Unrestrained mayhem broke out on the terraces – just as against Shandong earlier this season, Riascos had done it again, winning a match with a 90th minute goal to cap an amazing comeback and an amazing game your correspondent has rarely seen the likes of.

It was notable however, that as the players did their usual celebration ritual infront of the fans, that Riascos was already walking off the pitch by himself. He’s due to leave during the summer break, possibly heading to Mexico. He will be missed.

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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