In the final game of the season, Shanghai Shenua pulled out a last gasp win over bitter rivals Beijing Guaon, winning 1-0 thanks to substitute Jiang Kun’s strike in the dying seconds of injury time. The plaudits will go not only to the goal scorer but also Cao Yunding for an an eye-catching display in the middle, and both sets of fans, whose noise and passion made the game truly memorable.
It would be the zeal of the fans who made the first half of the game tolerable as both sides laboured in the rain, underlined by Dai Lin’s fifth minute free kick that was so high and wide that it almost hit the scoreboard. With chances at a premium, the game quickly became a battle for possession and the derby atmosphere ensured that no quarter would be asked nor given as crunching challenges flew in all over the pitch. Walter Martinez in particular found himself on the receiving end of a couple of strong tackles from Shenua players.
The half’s only real chance would come in the forty-third minute as Wu Xi made his way into the area and his scuffed shot caused mayhem in the box, eventually rebounding into the path of the onrushing Eisner Loboa, whose own effort was frantically cleared off the line and away to safety by Guaon.The interval passed with the obligatory cat calling between the two sets of fans and both sides emerged looking to fashion more chances than they had done in the first half. Guaon began looking the more menacing and enjoyed the majority of the early possession, with Martinez and Joel Griffiths constantly lurking on the shoulder of the last Shenua defender, waiting for the final ball to be played ahead of them.
However, Shanghai continued to create the more decisive chances; midway through the second half, Yu Tao forced Yang Zhi into a vital near post save and Loboa sent the subsiquent corner into the side netting. Shanghai were begining to force the issue and in Cao Yunding, they had the player most likely to change things with his deft passing and direct running.
Indeed, it would fall to the young playmaker to make the difference when it counted. As the game slipped into injury time, and having seen Wang Changqing scuff his shot into the hands of Qiu Shengjiong a couple of minutes earlier, Cao calmly controlled a miscued freekick from halfway line, danced around a couple of Guaon tackles and found Yu on the edge of the Beijing penalty box. Looking up, the Shenua skipper’s cross drifted across the box, falling perfectly onto the boot of recent substitute Jiang Kun, who steered the ball past Yang and into the bottom left hand corner for the game’s only goal and an already vibrant Honkou stadium exploded into wild roars. Not only was this the last goal of Shenhua’s 2011 season, but it was the 700th league goal ever scored by Shenhua since the start of professional football in China in 1994, according to club TV channel PPTV.The game was Shenua’s and having finally undone a defence that had been led so majestically by centreback, Francois, the game was won at the death, and other than Wang having to rush from his line to block the ball at the feet of Zhang Xizhe, there was little time for anything else. The full-time whistle blew and Shenua had given their fans the victory they wanted.
As the Shenua players and management trickled onto the pitch to salute the fans, who in turn chanted Dražen Besek’s name as he walked around the pitch, a torrid season was seemingly redeemed by a hard-fought performance against a talented opposition. It remains to be seen what will happen in 2012 Chinese Super League but for the next few months, Shenua fans can take solace in a new talisman in the form of Cao Yunding and a tenacious win to finish an exhausting season of extreme high and lows.
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