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Shenhua 1:0 Dalian: Battle of the fallen giants

If a week is a long time in politics, then six years is an eternity in the Chinese Super League. When your correspondent first started following Shenhua regularly in 2005, Dalian Shide v Shanghai Shenhua was the biggest match on Chinese football’s domestic calendar. That year, Dalian won the league and Shenhua finished runners-up, with the Shanghai clash between the two sides attracting more than 25,000 spectators to Hongkou stadium to witness a 2-1 victory for the home side. The two teams were the undisputed powerhouses of Chinese football back then – at the end of the 2005 season, Dalian had won eight of the 11 Chinese Championships held since pro football was launched in 1994, whilst Shenhua had won twice and finished runners-up six times.

Veteran defender Cheng Liang celebrates his 100th Shenhua appearance

Since then, Dalian have went into serious decline,  not even finishing high enough to qualifiy for a single ACL campaign, and have even flirted with relegation on occasion. Shenhua have fared a little bettter in the last five years, but not much, taking the runners-up spot twice more. However this season of course, as regular readers will already be well aware, Shenhua find themselves at the wrong end of the table – right next to Dalian as a matter of fact, which allows us to neatly segue to last night’s game.

The match was a very sorry immitation of the huge Dalian-Shenhua clashes of the early to mid 2000s, with the crowd well below five figures. There was a distinct end-of-season feel to the game, both sides with nothing to play for in their last three matches. However, Shenhua scored with virtually their first attack of the match, when Cao Yinding lobbed a ball forward which was met by the head of Wu Xi just before the Dalian keeper could reach it. The ball bobbed over the custodian and rolled into the net to put the homeside one up.

There wasn’t an awful lot of action in the rest of the first half, Qiu Shenjiong actually managed to pull off a couple of decent saves from Dalian attacks, and Feng Renliang, who was having one of his best games all season, hit Dalian’s crossbar just before half time with a rasping freekick from 30 yards out.

Dalian came into it more in the second half, and again Qiu looked lively in goal, for once justifying why he is playing professional football, denying the visitors on several occasions. Then, in the 78th minute Shenhua rode their luck when Martin Kamburov, Dalian’s Bulgarian striker, hit the post with a well-struck freekick from about 25 yards out. That was to be Dalian’s last real chance and Shenhua held on for a narrow win, leapfrogging their opponents in the process into 11th place.

The two sides must surely be hoping that when they next meet, the circumstances will more closely resemble their classic jousts of the previous decade, rather than a low-key fixture between two sides not a million miles away from being relegated.

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.



  1. Werder Bremen supporter

    29/10/2011 at 17:58

    I only came across your site very recently (straight after rescuscitation upon reading about Shenhua’s possible move to Wuhu in Anhui Province ;-). As somebody who has managed to see all of Shenhua’s home games this season, apart one, and who tries to follow Chinese football in general and the Chinese Super League in particular, I was very pleased to read so much interesting information and talk around what goes on at the clubs: short comings, but also potential and interesting stories. Without the cynicism about the whole thing coming from many foreigners and Chinese people alike who do not even seem to want to know more of the matter apart from their stereotypes, I think that is one of the worst diseases of this city generally speaking (coming from the rich bored type of people, I guess).

    Next season looks to be even more intriguing than this one with two local rivalries in CSL-cities coming up (Dalian and Guangzhou). Actually, I was quite surprised to read here that the newly promoted Guangzhou team could seriously eat away a few supporters from Hengda since that other team could be considered to be the “true” Guangzhou team, plus the potential move to a new ground within the city. Interesting times, I am looking forward to see during the coming months how this will pan out.

    I agree with some writers here that I don’t understand why not many more foreigners who claim to be football lovers turn up in higher numbers in Shanghai. However, the few that do, seem to thoroughly enjoy it and that is actually more encouraging. Next season, I would like to make it to away games (or an away game) if my schedule allows (who would I approach for this?).

    I hope there will be many more fans who follow this league next season and turn up in numbers at the gates. Less confusion about kick-off times and more advertising would allow more to come. I can see a Man United cafe springing up in a central area of the city, but not one single billboard advertising Shenhua’s next home game and that given that Chinese or Shanghainese authorities claim to be so patriotic on any possible occasion. Well, I don’t see too much action on that front from them.

    I am sure kick-off times would be friendlier if any of the big foreign teams turn up here for meaningless friendlies to market themselves, if they want Chinese football to prosper, authorities clearly need to treat the league with the respect it is owed. I think the Chinese national team will do well when the league is doing ok, but the way how the season is clustered, I think that is not an easy thing to achieve.

    Footballing wise, Guangzhou set an exclamation mark for the CSL and I hope that other teams try to follow suit with their means next. Stable surroundings, more youth development at any club and managers with concepts could do the trick.

    Still miffed that the Guo’an game is scheduled on an afternoon during a work day, I want to see it really badly, I also think that it could have been one of the matches where the club could have earned a bit of money from the gates, plus Shenhua supporters deserve a better sending off into the winter after this up-and-down season.

    Is there any chance this could be changed last minute?

    Btw. is there a chance to meet you guys on match day or since the next match I could attend is a few months away for a pint in the pub?

    Cheers for this site!

    All the best,

    Werder Bremen supporter…

    • bcheng

      30/10/2011 at 14:27

      I’m coming down for the Guoan match this week, take a day off from work and we’ll meet up at the pub, hehe!

    • WEF Editor

      30/10/2011 at 14:41

      Some great comments thanks very much.

      Everyone here at WEF loves football and of course we support the game in China, but as you have seen, we don’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing out what is wrong with the game here.

      The reason more foreign fans don’t goto Hongkou is because most aren’t real fans. They just want to sit on their arse in the pub and watch the EPL and think anything which isn’t the champion$ league or EPL isn’t worth watching. As you know yourself, the quality of play on the park is just one aspect of football. At any rate, there are some really entertaining matches in the CSL… but most “fans” are too lazy or stupid to challenge their own assumption that Chinese football is rubbish.

      We can’t forget though that there have been very serious problems with the CSL which tarnished the image of the sport, its understandable to an extent that the fans stay away, however, the CSL is arguably in better shape than it ever has been and if China wants to have a good international side, a healthy domestic league is a necessity.

      Send an email to the site, we’ll sort you out for the pub and future games etc.

      • Werder Bremen supporter

        31/10/2011 at 13:25

        Thanks for the response, I will send an email to the site.,


        Werder Bremen supporter…

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