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Fowl play as Shenhua strike first blood in Shanghai Derby

Shanghai Shenxin 0-1 Shanghai Shenhua

CSL Round 2

Toranzo 4

Attendance 8,696

Amidst a backdrop of chicken-related tomfoolery and merriment in the stands, Shanghai Shenhua held on to an early goal to record a much-needed victory against rivals Shenxin in the first “proper” Shanghai derby in nearly seven years.

The game had been hotly anticipated, mainly due to a number of recent actions on Shenxin’s behalf. The team changed its name to be exactly the same as Shenhua’s except for the last Chinese character, after they relocated from Nanchang to Shanghai last year. Well, sort of. They were based in Jinshan district last season, an outer suburb over 50 kilometres from Shanghai city centre.

However this close season the side re-located again, this time to Yuanshen stadium in Pudong district on the east side of Shanghai proper, putting the team into direct competition with Shenhua for fans in the already seemingly small Shanghai city CSL market. Not content with that, Shenxin also changed the colour of their playing kit from yellow and white, to blue, the colour Shenhua play in. And to rub salt into the wound, the team formerly known as Nanchang Hengyuan signed Shenhua’s long-standing club captain, Yu Tao, in the close season, a jaw-dropping defection which enraged the Shenhua board and left the fans spitting blood.

Such was the colourful background to the game that Shenhua fans saw fit to mock another disingenuous move of Shenxin’s – the clubs club’s rather bizarre decision to change its club badge to feature a rooster. “Wandering Chickens FC” is the mocking title given to Shenxin by members of Shenhua’s Blue Devils ultras group, a large number of whom amused themselves by meeting in the “Shaking cauldron Shanghai chicken” restaurant to eat before the match.

Shenhua made a number of surprise changes to last week’s line-up. The back four were the same, but in midfield, Gio Moreno was out injured. In his place, Patrico Toranzo made his first start. Zhan Yilin lined up on the left to make his debut in place of Song Boxuan. Cao Yunding replaced Wang Changqing to make a belated first start this season. And upfront, the ineffectual Dady was dropped in favour of new Syrian striker Firas Al-Khatib, another player making his debut.

When the game did finally kick off, following chaotic scenes outside the stadium as Shenhua fans were thoroughly searched on entering the stadium, it seemed as if the game would live up to the hype. Al-Khatib was first to a long ball down the left, and held off Shenxin’s Zhao Zuojun, and an out-rushing Shenxin keeper Liu Dianzuo. As the paid concentrated on stopping the Syrian from shooting, Patrico Torenzo had in the meantime advanced to the edge of the box. Al-Khatib then calmly rolled the ball into the path of Torenzo who had an easy finish into the barely guarded net to give Shenhua a dream start with barely four minutes on the clock.

An emboldened Shenhua then took full control of the game. In the 11th minute Cao Yunding took the ball at the edge of the box and with a deft drag back and engineered himself into a position to shoot. He unleashed a low drive which flew just wide of Liu’s post. Ten minutes later Shenxin captain Zhao gave away possession cheaply to Toranzo in his own half, who fed the ball to Al-Khatib on the right side. The Syrian, who had caused all manner of trouble with his intelligent running and unselfish play, beat opposition keeper Liu with a deft chip, but it dropped agonizingly just wide of the post as Shenhua’s domination continued.

In the 27th minute, that man Al-Khatib was again in the thick of the action, getting on the end of a long ball from the Shenhua half and heading it intelligently past his man. Looking up, he saw an on-rushing and unmarked Toranzo and passed him the ball, but the Argentinians attempted first-time lob from outside the box was ambitious in the extreme and amounted to a wasted opportunity for the visitors to extend their lead.


“Three yellow chicken, three yellow chicken, ei-aye-ei-aye-oh!”

Shenhua had completely dominated a very poor looking Shenxin so far, who had barely threatened their opponent’s goal. But right before half time, Brazilian forward Kieza got on the end of a tasty ball into the box to head the ball into the net for Shenxin. However, his effort was correctly ruled offside. Half-time, 0-1 Shenhua.

The second half started slowly as Shenhua played with none of the drive or attacking flair of the first 45. The opening 15 minutes or so were largely dull, and in the Shenhua stands, fans held up banners such as “There is only one blue team in Shanghai” and sang a rather rude and dirty song to the tune of Old MacDonald had a farm, which featured lyrics about “three yellow chickens”. Many fans had brought rubber chickens to the match – chickens which emitted a squeaking sound when squeezed. During the lull in the game, certain individuals joined in the fun by making rooster noises, at one point such imitations could be heard left, right and centre.

Galliformic humour aside, the second half did have some incident worthy of record. Each side had a couple of half-chances, as Al-Khatib created all the danger for Shenhua, and Shenxin grabbed most of the possession. But in the 76th minute, things turned a little nasty. Rolando Schiavi, again a rock in the Shenhua defence, made an inch perfect slide tackle to dispossess Kieza on the edge of the Shenhua box. The ball broke free, and Schiavi again won the ball with a slide tackle from Shenxin’s Xu Wen, who flew into Schiavi in a shocking studs-up, two footed late tackle. Schiavi rolled over in a heap whilst incensed Shenhua players surrounded the referee, including keeper Wang Dawei who charged from his line. The referee had no option but to show a Xu a straight red. Shenhua fans vented their anger at the display of fowl play  by hurling the hundreds of rubber chickens they had earlier used to abuse their opponents, onto the pitch side.

The red card changed nothing, and the final moments were tense. Yan Song, who earlier replaced Zhan Yilin had a good shot from distance saved by Liu, with the follow-up from the edge of the box screwed wide by Xu Liang, who put in another disappointing performance. The referee added 5 minutes of stoppage time, but Shenxin couldn’t do anything with their possession and Shenhua held on to a massive cheer from the crowd, at least 2/3 of whom were backing Shenhua.

The final whistle saw Yu Tao, who predictably had been subject of considerable verbal abuse and uncomplimentary chants during the game, approach the Shenhua fans to offer his applause at the end of the match. The fans reaction was mixed, but there was more hissing than clapping. The rest of the team looked elated to have won the game which puts them on -2 points and in a considerably better position than many thought they would be in after two games.

Shenhua’s performance overall was impressive. The defence was rock-solid and the attacks free-flowing through man-of-the-match Al-Khatib. The Syrian looks like he just might be the answer to Shenhua’s prayers and did just about more running and intelligent passing on his debut than Anelka did all last season. The midfield looked more active and coherent this time, quite possibly due to ball-hogging Moreno’s absence. Cao Yunding fitted in well and yet again demonstrated why he’s wasted on the bench, but Xu Liang had another poor game.

Shenxin were frankly a mess at the back. New Aussie signing Michael Marrone was caught in possession for the counter-attack which led to Shenhua’s goal and he struggled to make an impact. In midfield, Yu Tao had a quiet game, and after today’s game it could well be asked if Shenhua will really miss him in midfield or not. Upfront, Brazilian Kieza looked dangerous however and was unlucky with his goal being ruled offside by a small, if clear margin.

The CSL takes its first break of the season as China’s national team plays an Asian Cup qualifier against Iraq next Friday.

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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