In a Yangtze Delta Derby absolutely over-flowing with incident, two controversial penalties saw Jiangsu Sainty twice take the lead over regional rivals Shanghai Shenhua, who twice equalized to tie the game 2-2.
A pre-match fight at a motorway service station, a Shanghai television presenter being punched in the face, two dodgy Jiangsu penalties which Shenhua will appeal to the CFA against, Wang Dalei’s 100th game for Shenhua, a half-time marriage proposal, end-to-end football, and a fine attacking display from both teams in temperatures over 30c in a passionate atmosphere – this was an occasion absolutely worthy of its derby status.
Your correspondent made the journey north-west to the capital of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing. Upon arrival we were herded into the north gate of the cities Olympic Stadium, and whilst queuing on a raised concourse to get in, we experienced Nanjing’s hatred of Shenhua – flying plastic drinks bottles thrown up from below. Various regular and riot police bellowed down below as culprits were reprimanded, and inevitably some return fire came from a few exciteable Shenhua individuals. It was kids stuff really but an indication of what was to come.
We had also heard earlier about a fight between a group of Shenhua and Jiangsu fans who had clashed at a motorway service station somewhere on the road between Shanghai and Nanjing – a bus from Suzhou carrying Sainty fans stopped at the service station at the same time as the Shenhua fan buses. A rather unfortunate coincidence.
The game itself kicked off to a relatively big crowd of what must have been around 30,000 or so in the 60,000 capacity stadium. The atmosphere was electric. Shenhua are the nearest CSL team to Jiangsu Sainty and Nanjingers really love to hate Shanghai. The rivalry is a little one-sided, but with Sainty in second place, and Shenhua at the other end of the table, the men from Hongkou went into this game as clear underdogs for the first time ever. None of the fans your correspondent spoke to predicted anything other than defeat for Shenhua.
And within a minute of kick-off, such gloomy forecasts appeared to be well founded, as a quick move from kick-off saw Sainty’s Romanian striker Cristian Dănălache come close with a shot from the edge of the box which Wang Dalei saved.
Shenhua’s weekly game of positional musical chairs ended with defensive midfielder Yu Tao losing out again – he filled in at the problematic leftback spot. Tough-tackling young midfielder Zhang Kaimu was back for Shenhua in midfield, Cao Yunding was dropped to the bench again in favour of Moreno. Anelka was upfront, at least in theory. He spent most of the game wandering around all over the pitch.
The game was played at a fast pace considering it is now the height of summer and temperatures were around 30c, in a stadium which blocks out any kind of breeze. And despite the match being end-to-end, the first half did not see any other real clear-cut chances. In the 12th minute Dănălache had a good opportunity but ballooned it over the bar, and shortly afterwards the same player hit the post with the Shenhua defence appearing to not know the game had in fact already kicked off.
In the 15th minute Feng Renliang came close a header after a neat move involving Sun Boxuan and Anelka, but for the most part, the first half was a tale of both teams looking dangerous without really testing the keeper – a lot of offsides and mis-placed passes at critical moments.
But in the 43rd minute, Shenhua’s new Columbian midfielder Moreno clumsily landed on top of Jiangsu’s Liu Bofei, knocking his opponent over in the penalty box. It was a foolhardy attempt to get the ball, but not a malicious tackle. It was a decision which could have gone either way, but the referee pointed to the penalty spot instantly. Dănălache made no mistake, 1-0, and half-time came soon after.
In the second half, Shenhua battled hard to get back into the game. The visitors didn’t have to wait long, just two minutes after the re-start Wu Xi’s cross into the box was flicked past Jiangsu keeper Deng Xiaofei’s far post by the head of Shenhua centreback Dai Lin. The defender dedicated to goal to his recently departed father, pointing skywards and bowing to the ground in a touching gesture.
Shenhua’s equalizer didn’t last long though, when in the 55th minute the team again conceded a penalty. If the first award was soft but probably a penalty, the second was far more debatable. Although Moises forearm clearly comes into contact with Serbian striker Aleksandar Jevtić‘s cross, the ball smashes into the Shenhua defender at close range. According to the rules of the game, a penalty is only awarded if the defending player deliberately handles the ball in the box. This story from the BBC with a former EPL referee says that the man in charge must look at where the player’s hand was at the point of contact, if it is judged to be in an “unnatural” position, then it is deliberate.
But in this clip we see Moises arm outstretched to keep his balance as he lifts his leg to block where he thinks the incoming cross will be. Unfortunately for him Jevtić’s ball doesn’t end up where he expects and it strikes his forearm. Not an easy call for the referee, but Shenhua certainly had a very strong claim to say it wasn’t a penalty, and as the highlights reel shows, several Shenhua players are absolutely incensed, including Yu Tao is normally the coolest head on the park. No doubt they were influenced by being on the wrong side of a controversial decision for the second time in the same match.
However, the protests as always, came to nothing, and Cristian Dănălache absolutely buried the spot-kick to make it 2-1 to the home side. The derby had moved up yet another gear.
Last time out, Shenhua lost the will to win after going behind to Qingdao. But the team were absolutely fired up this time round by the perceived sense of injustice and looked determined to get back into the match. This joint display of resolve to win has been badly lacking this season, as referred to in ‘s half season review for Shenhua. But with a new-found fire, and driven by the excellent Giovanni Moreno in midfield, the Shanghai side battled on.
The match was a typically niggly derby, and tensions boiled over in the 68th minute when Moreno tried to get the ball back from Jiangsu’s Liu Bofei who had picked it up following a foul against his side. But Liu Jianye, who was also involved in the tussle, dived to the ground holding his face in an absolutely outrageous piece of play acting which deserves to be given a retrospective red card on video evidence. It was truly cringeworthy. The referee thankfully didn’t notice, but Moises ran into the fray to try and get the ball, and was booked for his part in a shoving and slapping match with the opposition as the game looked for a second like it was about to erupt into a brawl.
The game settled somewhat, but not before Moreno hit the Jiangsu post with an excellent free kick from just outside the area in the 68th. But just when it looked like the match was slipping away, Moises made up for his misfortune earlier by rising to meet Feng Renliang’s corner with beautiful header that flew straight into the Jiangsu net – 2-2 and the home crowd were silenced in the 72nd minute.
Shenhua played on and had several chances to grab a winner, Feng Renliang missed a guilt-edged opportunity half way through the second half when he found himself unmarked in the six yard box, but he somehow fired his shot right at the keeper.
Both teams could have grabbed a winner, but it finished 2-2, Shenhua may well feel aggrieved not to have won the points given the nature of Jiangsu’s goals, but the result felt like a victory to the visiting support who cheered and sang, even for one hour after the final whistle as they were locked in the stadium for security reasons.
This was a big result for Shenhua and a massive morale boost – it showed what the side is capable of when some effort is put in. Giovanni Moreno in particular was absolutely massive, the ball seemingly stuck to his feet. His awesome close control and fantastic passing and running contributed to the best individual performance of a Shenhua player in quite some time. On current form, he looks to be the missing element in Shenhua’s midfield, if Yu Tao or perhaps Jiang Kun can do the running and tackling.
A point away from home against the side second in the league would be an acceptable result regardless of Shenhua’s achievement this year and the team now go into Saturday’s big China Derby against old enemy Beijing with a sense of renewed confidence. This upcoming fixture is going to be huge for the Shenhua fans who are hungry for something to celebrate this year.
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