A shocking miss during normal time resulted in a frustrating CFA cup exit for Shanghai Shenhua as they went down 5-3 on penalties away to Changcun Yatai last night.
The match had been early anticipated as Drogba was widely expected to make an appearance at some point, having travelled to Changchun and sparked of a run of ticket-buying in the north-eastern city. Local fans also had earlier scaled the walls at Jingkai stadium to see the man himself training with his new team-mates.
However, about an hour before the match, a Drogba-less team sheet was circulated, resulting in disappointment for all concerned, with the possible exception of Changchun’s back line. The former Chelsea player’s debut will now most likely take place away to Guangzhou R&F this weekend.
Also missing from the line-up was Brazilian defender Moises who sat out with an injury, Qiu Tianyi deputized. Song Boxuan was also missing. Those who did line up included Cao Yunding, back in midfield alongside Moreno and Jiang Kun. Yu Tao, suspended for the last match, was also in the middle, in a holding role.
This week’s musical chair competitors were right-winger Feng Renliang, playing in some kind of central forward role, and Nicolas Anelka, playing a game all by himself.
Shenhua came into the match off the back of a big performance and massive morale boosting win over Beijing just four days before. However without a big home crowd behind them, Shenhua were slow out of the starting blocks despite playing an opponent inferior to Beijing.
The first good chance fell to Anelka when Moreno put him through on the left channel, but with two men on him he couldn’t manage to fashion a shooting opportunity.
In the 9th minute, Changchun’s Liu Xiaodong put a tasty ball into the box for Brazilian striker Weldon to chase, but Wang Dalei managed to make the ball safe, only just. Just five minutes later, Marquinhos, the Brazilian-Bulgarian forward had a good long-range shot from the edge of the box, but his shot just went wide.
Changchun had the upper hand in the first half hour or so, and their best chance came in the 23rd minute when a ball cut from the byline fell nicely for Zhang Wenzhao, but the striker pulled his shot over the bar when a goal looked more likely.
However, the best chance of the game came in the 28th minute and it fell to Shenhua. A Moreno through ball found Feng Renliang on the right. His low cross came a bit too quickly for Anelka, but the onrushing Bai Jiajun running in at the far post had enough time to turn around and wave to the cameras before slipping the ball into the unguarded net. However, in what could go down as miss of the season, he somehow hit his shot wide. It was a tragic miss for the on-loan from Shanghai East Asia youngster, who otherwise had a fine game.
Shenhua controlled the rest of the first half, and took control when the teams came back out after the interval – Moreno coming close with a long-range shot in the 63rd minute. The visitors moved up a gear and controlled the game, but at least half a dozen moves broke down at the feet of Anelka. Apart from one run which culminated in a good shot on goal, the man on megabucks misplaced too many passes and failed to bring the ball under control quickly enough. It was without doubt his worst performance for Shenhua so far, and he was substituted for the first time in his Shenhua career, making way for young striker Xu Qi in the 80th minute.
The game looked destined to finish 0-0, and Shenhua were fresh out of ideas, Changchun looked the more likely team to score towards the end. However, penalties it was, with no extra time played in Chinese FA cup games.
Both teams scored their first three penalties, with one Changchun effort hitting the bar and rebounding down, before hitting Wang Dalei’s back and going in. Shenhua’s fourth penalty was taken by defacto captain Yu Tao, but the veteran Shanghainese midfielder scuffed his effort wide. Changchun made no mistake from the spot with their fifth, and Shenhua’s season was effectively rendered over for another year.
Your correspondent’s cautious Beijing match report reflected a lack of belief in the concept that Shenhua had turned a corner after two previous great performances, and the showing in this match was proof that long-term problems with the team’s weak mentality, and the tactical liability which is Nicolas Anelka, are far from being resolved.
After the game, on the social networks Yu Tao was heavily criticized for his miss, but he was roundly defended by many Blue Devil members who claimed those knocking the Shenhua hero were not real fans. Curiously, the knockers included a weibo belonging to a Police department in Xuhui district, who were subject to furious “A.C.A.B.” (all cops are bastards) posts and choice language saying the police had no right to represent Shanghai fan’s view.
Yu Tao himself responded on weibo, saying “I don’t know what I can say to you all. I see some people have berated me, but honestly, speaking, I can only just accept what happened and move on.”
He added, “Thanks to those who are supporting me during this difficult moment, of course I understand its hard for you also. Thank you.”
Yu’s engagement with the fans is one reason he is one of the most respected players at the club, after joining as a youngster in 2002.
Before the match, owner Zhu Jun had stated qualifying for the Asian Champions League via a CFA cup win was the clubs’ primary aim this year. The chances of ACL qualification are now slim to say the least, 3rd place is nine points away and nine teams stand between Shenhua and that ranking. If one of the top 3 win the CFA cup, China’s 4th ACL spot will goto the team who finishes fourth in the league.
But either way, even the supreme talents of Drogba are unlikely to be enough to close that gap with 13 games left this season.
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