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Dady to the rescue as injury time goal saves Shenhua against Qingdao

Qingdao Joonon 1-1 Shanghai Shenhua

Chinese Super League round 6

 Li Jianbin (OG) 39; Dady 90

Attendance: 11,832

In a dreadful game of football played between two teams lacking competency, an injury time equalizer against Qingdao from Cape Verdean striker Dady kept Shenhua’s unbeaten record intact – but only just.

It was a match played on a surface which resembled a cabbage field, the bumpy pitch hampering the efforts of both sides to play decent football, in particular Shenhua with their lack of height and typical focus on short passing. However, the conditions were no excuse for the dull fare served up poorly disguised as entertainment.

The clash was an intriguing one as it pitted two teams coming into the game in very similar circumstances. Namely, both were tipped by many to be in the thick of the relegation battle this year but have made excellent starts. Qingdao were, incredibly, top of the league going into the game, whilst Shenhua had also defied expectations to make an excellent start, and would have been in the ACL places had they not suffered a six point deduction before the season began.

Going into the match Shenhua were missing left-back Bai Jiajun, and, thanks to Shenhua’s illogical transfer policy and lack of depth in the squad, it was time for yet another game of positional musical chairs. This week’s unlucky loser who found himself out of position when the music stopped was midfielder Wang Shouting, taking Bai’s place at left back. Li Jianbin and Dai Lin would play their own private game, swapping between right-back and centre-half during the game.

The match got off to a slow start – a pace which would remain unaltered throughout its duration. The first thing resembling any action of any kind came in the 5th minute, when a long ball into the box fell into place for Shenhua captain Gio Moreno. However the best the Columbian could manage was a fresh air shot. He was the recipient of the next chance to come his team’s way in the 20th  minute, when he got his head onto the end of a free-kick into the box, but his header did not trouble Qingdao keeper Mou Pengfei.

Qingdao had a few forays into the Shenhua penalty box, but none amounted to a shot on goal. The best chance of the half come in the 29th minute when Shenhua winger Song Boxuan evaded several defenders and made it to the byline. His low ball into the box found Shenhua playmaker Cao Yunding, but the diminutive Shanghainese  midfielder blasted his shot straight at Mou in goals and the chance was lost.

The home side opened the scoring in the 38th minute, when a looping corner was somehow headed into his own net by Shenhua defender Li Jiabin who was in the middle of a cluster of bodies in the box. Qingdao’s Brazilian striker Bruno Meneghel did his best to try to spare Li’s blushes by taking credit for the goal, but his celebrations were absurd as he made zero contact with a ball as it flew into the net without any assistance from a Qingdao player at all. Qingdao had managed the impressive feat of having scored without having a single shot on goal.

A few minutes later Shenhua had the ball in the net following Moreno’s beautiful finish from the edge of the box, but the Columbian’s effort was correctly ruled offside. Half-time, Qingdao a goal up.

Once again this season Shenhua had fallen behind following a poor first half show, could their famed second half performances come to the rescue? The answer looked to be a resounding no as the visitors’ performance deteriorated even further. The entire team was literally unable to string two passes together at many points and the match descended into a spectacle most painful to watch. Qingdao almost scored right after the break, their young dynamic midfielder Zheng Long latching onto a long ball up the park (the only way to deal with the terrible surface) and unleashed a shot which rebounded straight back off the post in the direction it came from and was cleared.

Most of the second half was unworthy of comment, as both sides tried to out-do each other in the incompetency department. Shenhua coach Batista rang the changes, putting on Wang Changqing mid way through the second half for Li Jianbin, and later Dady and Jiang Kun for Toranzo and Xu Liang. These changes had little effect, but just when it looked like Qingdao were going to sneak a victory, Jiang Kun floated in a dangerous ball from a free kick far out on the left, which was headed into the net by Dady just outside the six yard box. Shenhua had done it again, pulled points out of a game they had been losing, and this time, right at the death. The referee blew his whistle just minutes later and it was all over 1-1.

The exciting climax to the game contrasted sharply with the 90 minutes leading up to Dady’s dramatic equalizer. Both teams played very poorly. Qingdao in particular were rank rotten and their presence near the top of the table is greatly puzzling. Zheng Long looked dangerous and it’s not a surprise he’s one of China’s most rated up-and-coming midfielders, but apart from Bruno Meneghel upfront, the team looked very poor.

Shenhua without a doubt played their worst game of the season so far. In particular, Xu Liang in midfield, the club’s key domestic transfer of the close season, played poorly and his delivery from dead balls was pathetic. Gio Moreno again had another poor game, losing the ball when trying to take on too many players or mis-placing passes with great regularity. His presence unbalances the whole midfield, who always look unsure as to what he is going to do with the ball – he seldom plays the simple pass, and his in ability to gel with the rest of the midfield is especially disturbing considering he is captain.

Late equalizers are often seen as fortunate, but there is no way either team deserved to win this game, indeed, Qingdao’s only shot on target for the entire game came in the form of an own goal. Shenhua, despite their 64% of possession, had a pass completion rate of a shockingly low 15.4% – meaning only one in six passes found a team-mate. Their shots on target rate was little better, a mere three out of 10 efforts requiring a save from the Qingdao keeper.

The Shanghai media were full of talk of “Shenhua Spirit” after the match, and rightly so, despite the poor performance the team were able to grab a vital point when it mattered in a tough away match. There is no room for complacency though, Shenhua could have very easily lost their last two matches and been on zero points instead of their current four. There is a long way to go yet for the Hongkou side before those who predicted relegation can be laughed at.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

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