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Thai referee spoils classic Shandong – Shenhua contest

Shandong Luneng and ten-man Shanghai Shenhua played out a pulsating 3-3 draw in Jinan on Saturday night in a match marred by a very poor refereeing performance.

Shenhua players and management both spoke out after the match which featured some very odd decisions from the officials, including one clearly bogus penalty, and another extremely questionable one, and the red carding of Shenhua defender Dai Lin in the second half.

However, the eccentric officiating didn’t detract from what was described in the Chinese sports media as one of the most memorable Shandong – Shenhua games in recent years.

Shenhua travelled north having not won in Jinan in over ten years. They also left behind the massively influential midfielder Gio Moreno, who, according to Shanghainese media, had a “personal problem.” There was no indication of its nature, but his absence from the team followed on from stories last week that Shenhua would drop a major first team player in a tactical shake-up.

Despite Moreno being missing, there was still no place in the first XI for Cao Yunding. He must really be wondering what he has to do to impress Batista enough to name him in a starting line-up. Easily Shenhua’s most talented domestic outfield player, he’s started only seven games all year, but saved Shenhua’s skin on four occasions scoring key goals to turn results in the team’s favour.

The midfield then consisted of a defensive core of Zhang Kaimu and Wang Shouting in the middle, Feng Renliang on the left-wing, and Joel Griffiths on the right. Anelka was in the “hole” upfront, at least on paper anyway, Drogba up top. At the back, there was no recall for Moises despite Moreno’s absence freeing up a foreign player spot, as he was injured. Qiu Tianyi and Dai Lin were the centrebacks, Wu Xi the right back. Musical chairs made their inevitable comeback midfielder Yu Tao was at left back.

It took Shenhua just 80 seconds to open the scoring when Anelka put through a precise through ball into the box for Drogba, who made no mistake with a low shot which slipped past home keeper Geng Xiaoting. The home defence had been caught off-guard, and for a moment, ‘s prediction of a high scoring victory for Shenhua looked to have legs.

Shandong took the game to Shenhua in response and in the 18th minute Shandong midfielder Wang Yongpo was felled by Wang Shouting at the edge of the Shenhua box. The same  Shandong took the free kick from a dangerous position but to no avail. Not long before half-time, it was Drogba’s turn to waste a free-kick opportunity, getting booked in the aftermath goalmouth action with followed, for reasons unknown.

Midway through the first half, Dai Lin was booked for obstructing the opponent’s goalkeeper. Was he obstructing him on purpose? Debatable since he had his back to him at the time. Was it worth a yellow card? Not at all and Dai Lin did not appear to have been persistently fouling. His expression was one of amazement upon being carded.

With the first 45 almost over, Mozambique midfielder Simão Mate Junior almost scored when he got on the end of a ball played into the Shehua box, but he headed against Wang Dalei’s body, and the keeper managed to divert the ball to safety.

So 1-0 to Shenhua at half -time with Shandong not short of opportunities to equalize in a very open game.

The second half was not more than 7 minutes old when Shandong were awarded a dubious penalty. Wang Tong sent a shot into the box from the left channel, but Wang Dalei fluffed it and let the ball bounce away from him. He managed to beat the onrushing Brazilian Gilberto Macena by just managing to touch it away from the striker’s feet, before Macena collapsed over Wang. The referee pointed straight to the spot much to the consternation of the Shenhua players. The referee appeared to have a good view of the incident, but admittedly it was a tight call. Nevertheless Wang Yongpo made no mistake from the kick, 1-1.

The equalizer re-ignited the game. Shenhua had been under the cosh for all of the second half so far and the goal gave Shandong the initiative. Not long after, the pendulum swung further in the home side’s favour when Dai Lin was sent off for an aggressive challenge on an Macena, but without the benefit of a replay, seeing as the incident doesn’t appear in Sina’s highlights reel, it’s hard to offer much analysis. It looked like a booking if he did not get the ball, but with him already being booked for his supposed block on the keeper in the first half, he was shown a red. It was the last thing Shenhua needed.

It didn’t take the men in orange long to capitalize, and in the 66th minute Hao Junmin sent an exquisite through ball right up the middle of the pitch as Shandong broke forward. Macena made no mistake after he got on the end of it, slotting the ball home to put his side one-up.

At this point Shenhua were looking ragged, and despite some neat inter-passing, they had done little to trouble Shandong’s defence in the second half so far. In the 74th minute, it looked game set and match when a blatant dive in the box from Wu Xinghan fooled the referee into thinking he had been fouled by Wu Xi, who in fact cleanly tackled the ball and did not even make contact with the cheating Wu. However, incredibly, the referee gave another penalty against Shenhua. Justice was done however when Macena’s spot-kick was saved by Wang Dalei who dived low to his left to keep the ball out.

Perhaps spurred on by the ridiculous refereeing decision, Shenhua broke up field and promptly equalized. Again Anelka was the man to thank as he released Drobga into the box who rounded the keeper to score before dashing off to celebrate in front of the travelling supporters. In an instant,  instead of Shandong being 3-1 up and all but assured victory thanks to a dodgy penalty, it was suddenly 2-2.

Shenhua were on level terms for a mere four minutes however. Some truly shocking defending from Qiu Tianyi let Paraguyan forward Ortigoza get on the end of a through ball and slot home Shandong’s third goal in a move similar to the team’s first effort. Shenhua looked down and out, the game seemingly having slipped from their grasp despite numerical inferiority.

There was time for one last act of defiance however, when with just three minutes to go, A Jiang Kun corner was headed on by Joel Griffiths into the path of Nicolas Anelka. He promptly ended the longest goal drought of his career with a close range header to stun the home crowd into silence. It was his first goal since April 17 away to Hangzhou and only his third in 19 league and cup appearances. But somehow, Shenhua had scored more goals with ten men on the pitch than they had with a full complement of players. Soon afterwards the final whistle sounded 3-3 and a classic match indeed.

Afterwards, and predictably, both Drogba and Shenhua boss Batista heavily criticized the referee (he kicked a bottle of water in frustration during the game, as pictured), as well they might. Drogba said he officiating was “unfair” but didn’t want to elaborate, whilst Batista said he was satisfied with his team’s performance despite the key decisions going against his side.

Curiously, Sina Sports carried a commentary after the game defending the Thai referee’s (CSL games bring foreign refs in for big games to avoid corruption problems) performance, arguing he had only got one call wrong, namely Shandong’s second penalty. However your correspondent begs to differ. The first penalty also should not have been awarded as TV evidence shows, it is tight but Wang gets the ball first.

Sina also argued that Dai Lin was deservedly sent off, but in typical Chinese media style, neglected to include video clips of his two bookings in the highlights reel. At any rate, it was the second time Shenhua had conceded two very questionable penalties in a big away match this season. That seems rather odd to say the least.

So Shenhua remain unbeaten since Drogba’s arrival, but only just, Shandong dominated possession 60-40 and had 23/12 shots on target to Shenhua’s 8/4. However Wang Dalei had a storming game except for his aberration which led to the first penalty and once again his club owe him a debt of gratitude.

Any chance of grabbing third place and a spot in Asia is now surely down the swanny for Shenhua, having just won one in their last six. the CSL now indulges in a pointlessly long three-week break for two international friendlies as Shenhua don’t welcome Liaoning to Hongkou until September 15.

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.



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