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Schiavi shocks as the “minus six-pointer” ends in zeros

Shanghai Shenhua 0-0 Tianjin Teda

CSL Round 1

Attendance: 10,236

In a unique season opener, Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Teda, the two teams forced to start on -6 points for match-fixing a decade ago, played out a dull 0-0 draw at Hongkou on Saturday evening.

It was a day marked by all-manner of freaky numbers appearing before one’s eyes, such as both teams points tally (-6), the daytime temperature for a March day (28c) and the age of Shenhua’s key defender (40). However the outcome of the match offered an unremarkable pair of big fat zeros in terms of goals scored by both sides.

Before the match even kicked off, the fans wasted no time making their feelings on the punishment known – “zuxie jiesan!” (dissolve the CFA) was the loud chant from both the home and small travelling band of supporters.This was followed up with another joint chant abusing each teams’ mutual rival, Beijing Guoan.

For those of a blue persuasion, the subject of Shenhua’s first line-up of the season had been the source of much curiosity and speculation, following the mass exodus of players during the close season. When the starting XI was unveiled, surprises were the order of the day. The team lined up in a modern 4-5-1 formation with Wang Shouting, who made just 6 appearances last season, anchoring the midfield, and no place for new Syrian striker Firas Al-Khatib, or ageing smoker, Jiang Kun. New captain Gio Moreno was in an attacking midfield position, backed up by new signing from Guoan, Xu Liang, and Guoan reserves, Wang Changqing. It was also debut time for Cape Verdean striker Dady upfront. Non-surprises were, Cao Yunding on the bench, and the continuation of Shenhua positional musical chairs – this week’s participant was centre-half Dai Lin playing at right-back.

The game kicked off with most fans in short sleeves – unthinkable for early March in Shanghai. Both teams started off with caution – not surprising as it was a match which neither team wanted to lose, both being on -6 points.

The slow and ponderous start saw little of note happen until the 20th minute, when a flighted ball into the box found the feet of an on-rushing Moreno. He tried to place the shot, but it lacked enough power and Tianjin keeper Yang Qipeng pushed the ball around the post without any difficulty. Despite this shot on target coming at an early stage of the game, it would the final such effort from Shenhua for the rest of the evening.

Eight minutes later, debut man Xu Liang took  a nice ball into the middle from Moreno and controlled it well. His shot from the edge of the box flew just wide. Just before half-time, a poor clearance from debutant Wang Changqing found Tianjin’s Bai Yuefeng in the midfield. He brought the ball forward and played a great one-two with Bosnian forward Vladimir Jovančić, and only heroics from Wang Dalei kept the scores blank at half-time.

The second half saw Cao Yunding come on for Moreno, who injured his ankle just before half-time. Wang Changqing was also pulled, despite looking pretty decent, and Patrico Toranzo came on to become the sixth Shenhua player to make his debut on the evening. Cao wasted no time in yet again showing why he should be an automatic first pick, cutting in from the right and skinning two Tianjin defenders before releasing a shot which just flew wide.

In the 60th minute, Shenhua were lucky not to concede when Tianjin captain Wang Xinxin played the ball to the far left of the box, where Vladimir Jovančić was lurking, unmarked. Dai Lin, a centre-half forced to play at right-back, hadn’t picked up the Bosnian, but fortunately, Wang Dalei came off his line to beat down the shot. The ball ended up back at the feet of Wang Xinxin at the edge of the box. Wang Dalei was out of position having made the initial save, but Rolando Schiavi was on hand to beat down the shot. The veteran’s next key move came five minutes from time, when Cao Yunding flicked on Xu Liang’s free kick from the right, but Schiavi just could slide onto the ball in time as it bounced just out of his reach near the goal line and went out for a goal kick before he could connect.

Shenhua stepped up the tempo in the closing stages, something which fans at Hongkou are not accustomed to seeing. But despite a few more attacks, none resulted in a shot on target, and the referee blew full-time as the match finished 0-0.

In summary, Shenhua were fairly solid at the back, but Dai Lin look uncomfortable playing out of position at right back. You’d think that, selling one of the best Chinese right backs in the league to their rivals Sainty, Shenhua would have gone out and bought a replacement right back. But no, the club’s crazy transfer policy continues, signing a centre-half (Li Jianbin) when the team already had a very capable one in its ranks already.

The only good thing to emerge from the game was the performance of Rolando Schiavi. He made many people, your correspondent included, eat their words. He barely put a foot wrong, providing a stabilizing influence on the rest of the back four, reading the game way ahead of anyone else in blue. Every time he cleared the ball he found a Shenhua player, every time he made a tackle he won the ball, every time he slid to make an interception he blocked an opposition pass. Alongside Schiavi in defence, Li Jianbin, looked mobile and sharp and could form a solid partnership with his more experienced team-mate.

In a post match interview, Schiavi said he preferred not to talk of myself rather the team performance itself, which he said was good in the circumstances considering the pressure from playing the other team with -6 points, whilst adding he really regretted not taking the chance to score in the 85th minute.

The performances of the other newcomers was less impressive, with the possible exception of Wang Changqing who looked hungry and aggressive, and didn’t look like someone who has spent most of the past couple of seasons in Beijing Guoan’s reserves. Indeed it was his former team-mate, Xu Liang who looked more like the reserve player. He looked behind the play and gave away possession cheaply on a few occasions. Toranzo, when he came on, looked completely anonymous and rather reminiscent of another Argentinian midfielder, Castro, who disappeared somewhere in midfield at Hongkou in season 2011. Upfront, Dady looked very poor, granted he wasn’t given much service but anytime he was he either let the ball bounce off him or, on a couple of occasions, skewed his shots way over the bar.

With only one game gone, its way too early for alarm bells even with the -6 point deduction. But thanks to results elsewhere Shenhua are already 8 points behind Qingdao, a team hotly tipped by several correspondents to go down. It is very difficult to see where the goals are going to come from this season, perhaps Firas Al-Khatib, who didn’t appear for unknown reasons during this game, may look more dangerous than Dady.

Shenhua go into the first of their four Shanghai derbies this year against Shanghai Shenxin, who were beaten 5-1 by Guangzhou Evergrande over the weekend, at Yuanshen Stadium next Sunday at 4pm.

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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