Shanghai Shenhua returned to their losing ways with a disappointing 2-0 home deafeat to runaway Chinese Super League leaders Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday evening at Hongkou Stadium.
The match was a greatly anticipated one, having been postponed twice due to China under-23 and senior national team fixtures. This led to a bizarre state of affairs which saw Shenhua play some teams twice before they had played the Cantonese giants once. The clash was originally scheduled to be played back in June, and had the contest gone ahead at this time, the fixture would have had some bearing on the championship. However, in the three month interim, Guangzhou built a Chinese Super League lead stretching into double figures, whilst Shenhua lost almost all of their games, so no prizes for guessing that there wasn’t an awful lot at stake by the time the teams finally met.
However, that didn’t stop Hongkou getting one of its biggest crowds of the season – 18,000 or so made it out to see Guangzhou’s super-star line up, leaving Hongkou half-full. Can you tell your correspondent is an optimist? Confidence in the home camp was fairly high, Shenhua had just snatched their first victory in ten games in the run up to this game. Could Shenhua somehow manage to be the first team to beat Guangzhou this season? Why not, many asked. Shenhua have a habit of winning big games but then throwing away points with displays of shocking ineptitude against Chinese Super League minnows.
Home fans also welcomed back former Shenhua favourites Gao Lin and Sun Xiang, two players shown the door in Zhu Jun’s ill-advised firesale at the end of 2009. It must amuse Guangzhou fans to think that, as well as splashing out ten million on South American superstar Dario Conca and other big foreign signings, they also were handed on a plate two first team Shenhua regulars with multiple Chinese caps between them, seemingly from an egotistical businessman throwing his toys out of the pram. Zhu Jun got rid of the likes of Gao Lin and Sun Xiang because he felt the Shenhua first team squad were failing to deliver. How ironic it is that the duo’s first visit back to Hongkou was as key first team squad members of the Chinese Super League’s champions elect.
The game itself was a fairly disjointed affair in which neither side played to their potential. Guangzhou got an early goal on 15 minutes when a hooked ball over the top caught Shenhua’s defence flatfooted, the away team’s Brazilian striker Muriqui burst down the right hand side and delievered a low ball to Dario Conca who made no mistake with a neat finish.
Shenhua almost struck back when Jiang Jiazhun’s fluffed cross somehow rolled across the box to Luis Salmeron, but the burly Argentinian striker messed up as well, and his shot trundled harmlessly wide. Both teams didn’t really do an awful lot with the ball in the first half and chances were scant. Half-time, Shenhua 0-1 Guangzhou.
For the first ten minutes of the second half, Shenhua dominated, Jiang Kun came close with a cross-cum-shot from a freekick near the touchline, but Guangzhou scored against the run of play in the 57th minute when Wu Pingfeng had the simplest of tasks to finish from close range, after Dario Conca took advantage of a botch-up in Shenhua’s defence to run down the right into a goal-giving position.
That pretty much finished the game as a contest, Luis Salmeron came very close after some great work from Feng Renliang and Columbian striker Eisner Iván Loboa, before Shenhua were reduced to ten men in the 72nd minute. Veteran defender Cheng Liang was adjuged to have been the last man and brought down Muriqui – a debateable decision at best. Jiang Jiazhun had a great chance to pull one back in the closing stages, when he got on the end of Wu Xi’s pass, but his shot was beaten down. And that was that – Shenhua 0-2 Guangzhou.
The defeat was no surprise, even if Shenhua had fancied their chances at the start. In truth, the two sides did not look like there was a massive gulf in the amount invested in each squad, but with Guangzhou now taking the title at a canter, they probably did not need to break sweat. Shenhua can take some comfort in that they matched the champions-elect for long stretches of the game and the Hongkou side has nothing to fear if they can continue their resurgence which started against Shaanxi last weekend.
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