Shanghai Shenhua 1-3 Changchun Yatai
CSL round 28
Scorers: Griffiths 45 ; Liu Weidong 8, 11, Marquinhos 45+2 (pen)
On yet another strange evening at Hongkou Football Stadium, Shanghai Shenhua’ 500th competitive game was one to forget as the boys in blue went down 3-1 to Asian Champions League-chasing Changchun Yatai last night.
The mysterious absences of three top players, a goalkeeper in tears, bizarre officiating and the home side being two goals down inside the first ten minutes were just some of the oddities on display, as Shenhua lost for the second game in succession.
During the week preceding the match the equity share dispute rumbled on, with endless rumours appearing in the international press about Drogba leaving to sign for Juventus, or whatever. There was also a player revolt over unpaid wages, and more rumours that the club’s foreign players also hadn’t received their latest pay packet. And, in an intriguing development, it was announced the day before the match that Drogba, Anelka and Gio Moreno would all miss the game due to injury. What a co-incidence!
The missing trio meant wholesale changes were necessary in the starting XI. Brazilian defender Moises made his first appearance since Drogba’s arrival, slotting in alongside Dai Lin, whilst Cao Yunding finally started a match again. Feng Renliang came in on the right of midfield, Joel Griffiths started upfront on his own. Zhang Kaimu was back in his midfield enforcer role, Jiang Kun and Yu Tao completing a 4-5-1 formation with Bai Jiazhun and Wu Xi the fullbacks.
The game got off to an explosive start. Changchun striker Cai Tianbao should have done better than to blast it over the bar after the ball was unexpectedly fed back into the box following a poor clearance from Wang Dalei. But Changchun striker Liu Weidong did much better shortly afterwards, scoring in just the 8th minute. He scored with a nice volley in the middle of the box following a cross in from the right.
It was an early blow for the home side, and before they could regroup, Liu scored again just two minutes later with a similarly well-taken goal from the edge of the box following Brazilian Weldon’s cross. With the game barely over the 10-minute mark, Shenhua had to pick themselves up and dust themselves down lest their 500th ever game turn into a complete embarrassment.
However, Shenhua in fact had not played badly. Both goals conceded were excellent finishes from half-chances. Despite lacking Drogba, Anelka and Moreno, the team actually played with more fluidity and showed more confidence in passing. It certainly seems clear to your correspondent that too many Shenhua players feel something of an inferiority complex playing alongside Drogba et al, which upsets the balance of the team.
Shenhua had most of the first half under their control apart from these two conceded goals. It was no surprise when Shenhua equalized, following a very nice pass into space from Jiang Kun which Cao Yunding sprinted on to beat his man and deliver a deadly ball which Joel Griffiths knee’d into the net from less than a yard off the line not long before half time.
It was a dangerous time to score, and at this point Shenhua looked energized and surely bound to score an equalizer. There was to be another goal scored, but not for the home side. Once again, in fact, for the FIFTH time this season Shenhua conceded a very debatable penalty. Your correspondent, having partaken in one or two pre-match alcoholic beverages, unleashed a diatribe of abuse towards the referee, alarming his match-going companions somewhat. However, there was no shortage of other match-viewers who agreed with the sentiment – TV footage shows Changchun forward Marquinhos being held off by Wu Xi then going to ground when he realises he won’t get the ball. The Shenhua players, bench and the home crowd were absolutely incensed and as well they might be with the team falling foul of plain bad refereeing once again. Marquinhos despatched the penalty just seconds before the referee blew the half-time whistle. The referee was again surrounded by an angry mob of Shenhua players, including Jiang Kun who was bare-chested for some reason. Things looked like they might boil over as Shenhua technical staff leapt off the bench to join the fray, but things calmed down and no cards were shown.
The angst on the pitch also extended to those watching in the stands, and specifically, a certain executive box where Drogba was taking in the game. According to a local report, Shenhua board member Zhou Jun told a reporter “Just looking at Drogba’s facial expressions and what he was saying during the game you could see how much he wanted his side to win and how much he regretted not being able to join the action on the pitch himself, adding that Drogba got very animated to see such a questionable penalty awarded against his team.
The goal was against the run of play and knocked the stuffing out of Shenhua. In the second half saw both sides struggle to threaten each other’s goals. Yu Tao had a good shot from range in the first ten minutes of the half, Joel Griffiths caused goalie Mi Tianhe to drop the ball under pressure from an aerial challenge, but no more good chances game except for a flying header from Griffiths on the hour mark from a Yu Tao ball forward which just flew wide by inches.
In fact Griffiths saw a lot of the ball in the second 45 but did little with it, sadly for the Aussie many a promising move ended at his feet in a game he will not want to dwell on despite his goal. In the 75th minute only some solid defending from Dai Lin prevented Brazilian Weldon from adding to the visitors’ score, who dallied on the ball far too long to allow Shenhua’s number 5 to get back and prevent a shot being made on goal.
That was it in terms of worthy action to comment upon. Shenhua were floored by two sucker punches at the start of the match and their recovery in clawing a goal back was over before it had began thanks to another shocking refereeing mistake. The result certainly flattered Changchun and Shenhua made a decent account of themselves shorn of their attacking foreign trio. The homeside dominated possession at 57.4% and also out-shot their opponents with 8 shots on target to Changchun’s 4. However shots on target were 1 to 4 respectively, in other word’s Changchun’s keeper barely kept the ball.
Cao Yunding again showed why he should be a automatic first choice with some strong running and excellent link up play. However, Jiang Kun and Joel Griffiths disappointed, despite both being involved in Shenhua’s goal. Jiang in particular looks increasingly like a player who is well past his best, Griffiths works hard and gets into good positions but never quite seems able to pull it off. Overall the performance showed that Shenhua is not all about Drogba or even Anelka, despite the scoreline.
DrHowever, the night had a depressing air about it. In a night which was supposed to be a celebration of Shenhua’s 500th game, just 9,533 fans turned up – some no doubt put off by the absence of certain star foreign players. Infact, the whole evening felt as if one had gone back a year in time – no big-name foreign players on the pitch, crowds failing to it five figures, and Shenhua being beaten at home by mediocre CSL sides.
The odd feeling didn’t end, as keeper Wang Dalei broke into tears at the final whistle, to be consoled by some backroom staff. He explained that he’d found the defeat all too much and hated letting the fans down on such a big day for the club. Seems the long season of disappointment had gotten to him. Nevertheless, Wang can hold his head high, he’s easily Shenhua player of the year as far as is concerned. But for his heroics, many of Shenhua’s draws would have been defeats, and who knows where the club might have ended the season were it not for his great performances.
Speaking of which, with two games remaining Shenhua are technically not safe from relegation, however it would take a freak run of results for the six teams below to all overtake the Hongkou side.
That said, for everyone of a blue persuasion in Shanghai the end of this clusterfuck of a season just can’t come quickly enough.
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