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CSL’s financial giants share the spoils in action-packed clash

In a clash of the CSL’s two financial titans, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua drew 2-2 in a high-octane game in the south of China which delivered on entertainment if not quality.

Chalk another one up to the “entertaining CSL games of 2012” count – the big-spending pair ended all-square  in an evenly matched contest between two sides at opposite ends of the table. Shenhua came from behind twice to score their first goals and earn their first point against the side since it morphed from Guangzhou pharmaceutical into Guangzhou Evergrande at the end of 2009.

Before this report descends into a complete Shenhua perspective, let’s look at the contribution of Hengda — along with a fantastic atmosphere generated by the home fans, the Cantonese side also dazzled in moments and demonstrated why the holy trinity of Conca, Cleo, and Muriqui (when not rolling on the ground) represent among the best the CSL has to offer.

Sergio Batista opted for s slightly suicidal 4-4-2: having ascertained that his side performs well in a 4-3-3 formation, the Argentinean opted for a very attacking lineup against the best side in China. Shenhua held the slight advantage  for much of the game, but in and around Hengda’s go-ahead goals (a smooth drilled shot from Conca and the inevitable Muriqui wriggle), Shenhua were at times overwhelmed.

This looked more like a table-topping decider than a dead rubber between champions-elect and has-beens; in fairness, the post-Moreno Shenhua have proved an unbeatable opponent in a series of tricky fixtures. can see why the lanky Colombian may be a divisive figure, but when he remains on his feet he is a layer capable of taking a game by the reins and belting in the standard of goal which confounded Yang Jun and earned  Shenhua a point at  Tianhe Stadium.

Yu Tao and Moreno made for a shaky central pairing. Drogba looked as rusty as his lack of match practice would predict. Anelka was Anelka, this week opting to be a waste of space in the right-wing position: Feng Renliang being the model of patience in not garotting him.

Shenhua started brightly and Drogba almost opened his account for his new side with a very nice volley from a corner in the 20th minute which he smacked against Guangzhou’s number 1 Yang Jun. Less than ten minutes later, the exact same thing happened again, except the shot came from Drogba’ head rather than his foot.

In the 31st minute, some nice work down the left flank from Muriqui found Dario Conca’s run towards an alarmingly sparse looking edge of the Shenhua box. But the Argentinian star couldn’t keep his shot down.

Up till this point, the game had ebbed and flowed with neither side dominating. But in the 40th minute, Shenhua’s defender Dai Lin made a poor overhead clearance which was picked up by his opponent Wu Pingfeng. He slipped the ball to an on-rushing Dario Conca who fired a low shot into the bottom corner of the Shenhua net to send Tianhe Stadium wild. The goal inspired Evergrande who pushed on for another.

In a frenetic end to the first half, two minutes after the first goal, Wu Pingfeng was again the provider as he crossed to the far post, but Brazilian striker Cleo couldn’t keep his header down, and just before half-time, there was a sublime moment which would have graced any league game anywhere in the world. Following a game of head tennis in the Shenhua box, the ball fell to Tan Dechao at the edge of the area. He expertly controlled the falling ball on one foot before unleashing a volley with the other. If that was a piece of great skill, the save Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei pulled off must surely be a candidate for save of the season – he somehow managed to dive across the face of the goal after being unsighted and off-balance, to deny the home side a second goal in a marvellous save. And so the first 45 finished 1-0 Evergrande at half-time.

Shenhua were rocked by the late first half goal and mini-onslaught, but came out in determined mood. In the 51st minute, Feng Rengliang should have scored when an in-swinging corner fell to him in the six yard box. He got his shot in and it beat the Guangzhou keeper – but Dario Conca answered his recent critics that he does not track back enough by being on the line to clear the goal-bound shot.

The visitor’s did finally get on the score sheet in the 55th minute when Song Boxuan’s smart volley equalized the opener, following a Giovanni Moreno’s cross to the front post, to mark Shenhua’s return to form.

The Columbian playmaker blotted his copybook by turning provider for Guangzhou’s second goal however. In the 78th minute, he was caught in possession in midfield by Tan Dechao, who promptly passed the ball upfield to an unmarked Muriqui. The Shenhua defence was caught square, and Muriqui cut in from the left to fire the ball home from a similar angle and range to Conca’s opener. It was the second time slackness at the back had cost Shenhua a goal, and the men from Hongkou looked to be about to come away from Cantonese capital with nothing to show for their efforts.

Such a scenario was not to be however, when just two minutes later, Moreno received a Cao Yunding pass and took a shot from around 25 yards out. His effort immediately looked to be a bit short on power and unlikely to trouble Yang Jun, but unfortunately for the home keeper, the ball dipped and passed under his body in a World Cup 2010 Robert Green-esque moment for the custodian. Moreno celebrated passionately as lady luck had smiled on Shenhua to bestow an equalizer on the visitors.

Beyond the goals there was plenty of drama — a whole Shenhua bench protesting an offside call against the otherwise ineffective Cao Yunding (the boy is no winger), and Cleo “scoring” a sublime offside winner before making way for a porky-looking Barrios.

Anelka and Drogba briefly rolled back the Chelsea years before the bearded one couldn’t quite get a shot off — overall, this was an entertaining yet unconvincing score draw for both sides. Shenhua have clear weaknesses, particularly in defensive midfield, to address before a title challenge next year, while Hengda only sporadically let Gao Lin and the foreign triumvirate strut their deadly stuff – and a fair point was gained for each time which is ultimately useless to both sides.

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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