The Chinese Super League match between Dalian Shide and Jiangsu Sainty was set to kick off at 7:40 last Saturday evening. Seeing that I lack anything that could be considered a social life in Nanjing, I turned up at the stadium about a hour early. Like other fans I was forced to wait outside until the stadium opened. As the minutes passed I grew more and more anxious to get inside the stadium. Once the clock struck 7:30 the mass of fans that had congregated around the east entrance grew unruly. I was half expecting the crowd to push past the metal detectors and force their way into the stadium, but reason gave way and the fans waited on. Finally a man came with a loudspeaker and informed us that the game would be delayed until 9pm because the visiting team, Dalian, was late. As one might expect the fans didn’t take this bit of news lightly, with people yelling in disgust as others turned tail and went home.
Around 7:45 the fans were finally let into the stadium. Once inside I quickly noticed two unusual things. Firstly that there was a truly massive stage directly behind the south goal. The prior evening the stage was used for a Song Zuying concert to help celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Today it was being used by photographers to gain a good vantage point of the match.
Besides the monstrous stage there was another unusual sight in the stadium. Two youth teams were playing a game on the field in an attempt to quell the boredom of the waiting fans. Usually youth games aren’t all that interesting but the fact that one of the teams was made up of all girls while the other was boys seemed to grab the attention of the dreary fans. Everytime a boy was dispossessed by a girl the crowd would cheer wildly and if one of the boys got too physical with one of the girls the crowd would let him know. The game ended 1-0 with the boys edging out the girls and while it wasn’t as memorable as the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match it did help kill the time as we waited for the match to start.
By 8:45 the Jiangsu players took the field for warm-ups. Five minutes later it was announced that the game would start at 9:30. Some fans stormed out of the stadium but most just complained loudly and remained seated. It wasn’t until 9:25 that we saw the first sign of Dalian players. Two goalkeepers came out to warm-up but the rest of the team was still absent. 9:30 rolled around and the whole Dalian team came out onto the pitch, but still in their training gear. To the disbelief of the home crowd Dalian began warming up and would do so for another 15-minutes. To see the Dalian players laying down on the pitch and stretching two hours after the game was supposed to start was quite infuriating.
The Chinese Super League is often criticized for not appreciating the few fans the league does have and this experience only adds fuel to the fire. Nanjing Olympic Sports Stadium is connected to both line one and line two of the Nanjing subway system. It’s pretty far from the city center itself and I’d say about 90% of the fans use the subway as transportation to and from the game. Because the game was delayed over two hours the subway would be closed by the time the final whistle blew. Even if I was alone I wouldn’t like my chances of finding a taxi in that part of town, but when there are 10,000 other people also looking for a taxi? I’d might as well wait for a magical dragon to fly by and carry me home because that’ll happen before I find a taxi.
As frustrating as the delay was you could sense that it gave the Jiangsu players some extra motivation. Once the game finally began the home side quickly jumped all over the visitors. For only the third time this season Jiangsu strikers Cristian Dănălache and Bruce Djite both started up top. Their inclusion into the starting 11 was great move by head coach Dragan Okuka as the pair gave the Dalian backline trouble early one.
The first real chance of the game for Jiangsu came about 10-minutes in when Brazilian defender Eleílson was fouled just outside the box while going up for a header. It appeared that Eleílson knew the Dalian player would be coming in hard so he went down rather dramatically. Dalian players protested the decision by the ref but their cries fell on deaf ears. The ensuing kick was shot directly into the wall and bounced off harmlessly, truly a wasted chance.
Eight minutes later Jiangsu found themselves pressing the attack and during the push Bruce Djite was fouled towards midfield. Luckily the ref let play continue as Jiangsu had the advantage. The ball was passed to the top of the Dalian box where a sprinting Cristian Dănălache was desperately chasing down the ball. Dalian keeper Sun Shoubo came out in an attempt snag the ball but in the process he wiped out Dănălache. Anybody who has been following Jiansu this season knows Dănălache doesn’t fight hard to stay upright, but this time it appeared he was actually fouled and the ref pointed to the spot. It was Dănălache who was elected to take the penalty kick and he stuck it directly down the center as Sun Shoubo dove to his right.
The one goal lead would hold up until halftime. As both sides walked off the pitch I walked out of the stadium to catch the subway while I still had a chance. It appeared that half the stadium had the same idea as me. All of those who stayed to watch the second half were rewarded as Jiangsu put on a clinic and scored three more times to win 4-0. Considering every other Jiangsu win this season had been by the score of 1-0 this was quite the performance.
Seeing as I didn’t watch any of the second half goals live I won’t comment on them. I will say though that the prediction I made a few weeks back that Cristian Dănălache and Bruce Djite starting together up front would be a beautiful thing is coming true. Watch for this foreign attacking duo to make several more appearances on the scoring sheet in the upcoming months.