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Chinese Super League

Spectacular comeback once more as Shenhua snatch Shanghai derby win

Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Shanghai East Asia

Chinese Super League round 7

Xu Liang 72, Moreno 97; Wu Lei 40 (pen)

Attendance, 22,356

For the fourth time in a season just seven games in, Shanghai Shenhua came from behind to win points with a late goal, with city rivals Shanghai East Asia on the receiving end this time in a throbbing derby last night at Hongkou Stadium.

Shenhua went behind in the first half to an early goal from a hotly disputed penalty despatched by East Asia’s hot prospect Wu Lei, before Shenhua struck back with two very well worked goals in the final 20 minutes to take first blood in the “new Shanghai Derby”.

In the week leading up to the game, the match was hyped up by the media and hailed as a replacement to the classic Shanghai Derbies of the early 2000s. And unlike the clash against Shanghai Shenxin at the start of the season, there was ample reason to be excited about this fixture. Word on the street was that, for all the talk of the links between the two clubs being amicable, with current East Asia chairman Xu Genbao a former Shenhua manager, and four Shenhua players, Cao Yunding, Bai Jiajun, Zhan Yilin and Zhang Kaimu being former East Asia players, there were under currents of discontent. Xu Genbao is widely known to be a strict disciplinarian, Shenhua fans mock East Asia as “North Korea FC” in reference to Xu’s strict training regimes and demands on players on and off pitch. Cao Yunding, who left East Asia to sign for Shenhua in 2011, and Bai Jiajun who joined Shenhua permanently at the start of the season, are both said to have left the club due to issues with Xu. The media focused heavily on these two Shanghainese players in the build up to the game, with Cao in particular making some pointed remarks. He amused reporters by refusing to predict the outcome of the match, saying “There’s no need to predict anything. Everyone knows what the result is going to be, we don’t need to say everything so clearly,” after drawing attention to the fact that Shenhua had 20 years of history and East Asia had only just entered the CSL.

Once the talking was over and the action began, it was clear from the off that both teams were in it to win it. It was something of a new school v old school clash. The rejuvenated Shenhua, riding high on a six-game unbeaten run against all the odds, wanted to maintain their role as the pre-eminent club in the city, backed by two decades of history. East Asia, the young upstarts, lacked Shenhua’s history but not roots, their team being built around young Chinese talent, and attracting a new fan base at a club untainted by the scandals of Chinese football’s darker chapters.

Shenhua lined up with star man Firas Al-khatib on the bench due to not being 100% fit. Daddy played upfront instead, and the replacing of the +1 Asian player with a regular foreigner meant Shenhua had three overseas players on the pitch, forcing Patrico Torenzo to join Firas on the bench. Bai Jiajun was reinstated at left back following return from injury, apart from that the team was largely unchanged from that which drew with Qingdao the previous week.

East Asia took the first bite at the derby victory cherry, Wu Lei breaking through the middle at high-speed before releasing a pass to Wang Shenchao. His fierce shot from the right hand side of the box was bravely blocked by Bai Jiajun. Shenhua responded with a bit of possession and pressure, but did nothing dangerous save for a glancing Cao Yunding header which drifted wide of the mark.

In the 23rd minute, Wu Lei was again in the thick of the action for East Asia, getting onto a low ball into the box which he should have done better than to knock over the bar. Just two minutes later, Shenhua could have taken the lead, but Gio Moreno’s header hit the post and bounced clear. By this time, the tempo of the game was high and the play open-ended. It was no surprise that a goal would be scored before the first half was out, but its manner would be controversial.

Shenhua’s on-loan Evergrande defender Li Jianbin scored an own-goal in the previous game against Qingdao, this time he would be involved in more misfortune by conceding a very debatable penalty. East Asia’s Columbian striker Luis Carlos Cabezas was heading away from the goal going nowhere, but he was adjuged to have been pulled by Li. Replays suggest contact was minimal and the South American went down like a blacksmith’s anvil. However penalty it was, and Wu Lei stepped up to stroke it home in the 40th minute.

So Shenhua went in at half-time again a goal to the bad. Was it a bit soon to pull off yet another comeback, especially in a derby? It was not. The home team came out and took control of the second half in an effort to get back into the game. Gio Moreno came close after the hour mark when he over-stretched to meet a looping cross into the box. Ten minutes later, in a spell of pressure, Shenhua broke forward. Dady almost messed up the flow of the move and took a bit longer than ideally desired to control a pass, but he eventually did and released Gio Moreno. He played a weighted low pass to the back post for the on-rushing Wang Changqing. However, the pass was intercepted in the box by none other than Wu Lei who seemed to pop up everywhere for East Asia.

East Asia wouldn’t be able to stop Shenhua’s next attack though. An exquisite chip towards the back post, from Firas Al-khatib was well-controlled by Xu Liang. He dummied a shot which enabled him to skip past East Asia’s Sun Kai before releasing a low left-foot drive that squirmed under keeper Yan Junling to tie the game with 18 minutes left on the clock – check out this north terrace-eye view of the moment the goal went in.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors just a few minutes later when Wu Lei was bundled over by Shenhua defender Dai Lin. Wu grabbed his opponent’s ankle in frustration, and Dai made the most of it by falling over in a shameful attempt to get a fellow pro sent off. That is exactly what happened as the ref showed Wu a second yellow card and an early bath for the 21-year-old East Asia point man. It was a harsh sending off, but some might say it was karma for the soft penalty award earlier in the game.

Shenhua now smelled blood – could East Asia withstand the psychological pressure of knowing their opponents had scored late goals to clinch points three times already this season? Whether this factor entered the players minds or not we won’t know, but it didn’t matter. What followed next was one of the best goals seen at Hongkou for quite some time. Song Boxuan used an absolutely ridiculous piece of skill on the left to beat his man, flicking a pass off the inside of his heel around the left side of  Wang Shenchao, and dancing around his right to take the East Asia defender completely out of the game to a loud cheer from the crowd. He then accelerated past Ghanian defender Ransford Addo and put in a perfect cross, which Gio Moreno headed majestically into the net to finish a fantastic goal and an amazing derby comeback for Shenhua. Gio celebrated by taking off his shirt and pointing to the sky, whilst the vast majority of Hongkou went berserk. There was little time for East Asia to get back into the game and the final whistle was greeting by a massive cheer from the large home support.

So, Shenhua had done it again, another hard-fought game, another comeback. ‘s North Terrace preview told readers to “expect drama and goals here” and that is just what we got. And  in last week’s match report, your correspondent singled out Gio Moreno and Xu Liang as two big players for Shenhua who were under performing. Perhaps Sergio Batista is a regular reader of ‘s Shenhua coverage and told the pair to get the finger out. Both scored excellent goals and were at the heart of Shenhua’s resurgence. Song Boxuan also played a blinder. The man who came to Hongkou back in 2010 from 3rd tier Tianjin Locomotive at the same time as Feng Renliang, seems to be finally stepping out of Feng’s shadow now his old team-mate has gone to Evergrande. The quality of Shenhua’s shooting left something to be desired, just two out of 13 shots hit the target, but they both went in and that is of course what counts. Shenhua also enjoyed 61% of possession. East Asia had four out of 9 shots on target, but however gutted they must be to lose so late in the game, it was a deserved victory for the home side and this season’s famed “Shenhua Spirit” is certainly not just an Internet meme.

After the game, Shenhua players were mobbed by a large group of fans who waited for a considerable amount of time after the match to continue to heap praise upon their heroes, after thousands of others engaged in the traditional post-match victory celebrations beneath the elevated metro station. It may have only have been the first competitive fixture between the two sides, and the vitriol wasn’t quite at full blast, but after this fixture there can be no doubt – the Shanghai Derby is back.

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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