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Déjàvu as controverisal penalties help Sainty hold Shenhua once more

Jiangsu Sainty 2-2 Shanghai Shenhua

Chinese Super League Round 10

Lu Bofei 13 (pen), 34 (pen); Dady 27, Xu Liang 41

Attendance: 32,157

In a remarkable echo of the same fixture the previous year, Jiangsu Sainty scored two highly controversial penalties to draw 2-2 with Shanghai Shenhua, during an action-packed Yangtze Delta Derby on Saturday night.

In last year’s fixture at Nanjing Olympic Stadium, Shenhua had to equalize twice after going behind to very questionable penalties against the home side to share the points with two goals apiece. This year, in an eye brow-raising coincidence, exactly the same happened again.

The Shenhua – Sainty edition of the Yangtze Delta Derby is usually an eventful occasion; fan disorder is commonplace as Nanjinger’s dislike of Shanghai comes to the fore, something your correspondent has experienced many times before. A Shenhua fans’ bus window being smashed in 2010’s fixture, and Shenhua’s PPTV match commentator being assaulted in the midst of a live broadcast were just some of the shenanigans which has taken place over the years. This year the police presence was huge, as this video of Sainty fans waiting for Shenhua supporters to emerge shows.

The game itself was worthy of the derby tag. Shenhua emerged with an unchanged defensive line-up, but elsewhere there were surprises. For the first time this season, Cape Verdean striker Dady started with Syrian forward Firas Al-khatib. Dady was playing as out-and-out striker, but Al-khatib on the right, with Cao Yunding recalled and on the left of midfield. Song Boxuan stayed behind in Shanghai due to a fever, as did coach Sergio Batista who spent several days in hospital last week after collapsing during training due to what doctors said was stress. Gio Moreno was in the hole.

Both teams started off aggressively and players had difficulty keeping their footing on the wet pitch. The first real action came in the 13th minute, when Shenhua’s pint-sized left back Bai Jiazhun was shielding the ball from Sun Ke, trying to win a goal-kick for the visitors, there was pulling from both players, but the ball ended up being kept in but both players ended up just outside the pitch just at the edge of the box. As both again tussled to win possession, Sun went down for no other reason than to try to con the ref into awarding a penalty. There was contact and shirt pulling, but both players were doing so and there was nowhere near enough to justify Sun Ke’s fall. But the referee didn’t see it that way, Lu Bofei stepped up to score the resultant penalty.

Undeterred, Shenhua pressed for an equalizer and the away side didn’t have to wait too long. In the 27th minute, some nice link up play by Cao Yunding and Geo Moreno saw Xu Liang given space in the Sainty half. He played a delicious through ball for on-rushing Bai Jiazhun who crossed it low first time into the box. Dady then blasted his stereotypical image as a big man good in the air but poor on the ground with a clever flick with the inside of his left heel into the net off the legs of completely fooled Sainty keeper Deng Xiaofei. It was a fine equalizer and one Dady will savour for quite some time.

Having clawed their way back into the game, it wasn’t long before Shenhua conceded their fourth penalty in 124 minutes of football at Nanjing Olympic Stadium. In the 24th minute, Dai Lin was adjudged to have fouled Aleksandar Jevtić, with the Serbian striker collapsing in a heap after Dai Lin rested his arm on his shoulder. At best it was a very soft award, made on a basis which if applied equally to all CSL games, would make double-figure score lines commonplace. Shenhua’s players were incensed and surrounded the foreign referee, but of course to no avail. Lu Bofei stepped up and blasted it to Wang Dawei’s right, the keeper dived the correct way, but the shot was too well struck. 2-1.

So Shenhua again had to climb out of a hole not entirely of their own making. The equalizer came in an even more stunning fashion than Dady’s effort, when Xu Liang’s swerving and dipping free-kick from 25 yards out flew into the top right hand corner of the Sainty goal for a beautiful goal. The sides went in 2-2 at half time.

The second half saw Shenhua take the upper hand and the referee feature more with some curious decisions. Sainty barely troubled the Shenhua goal, only a few hopeful lobs into the box and a freekick which went close were on offer. Xu Liang almost scored again with a 30-yard free-kick in the 61st minute. His next set piece was also dangerous, curled into the box and headed against the bar by Gio Moreno in the 70th minute. Xu was on fire from dead balls and had one final trick up his sleeve, when in injury time, he cracked a 35-yard free-kick off the Sainty bar which had the entire stadium gasping. But there was no more action and the referee called time – 2-2 it finished.

Penalties are a relatively unusual phenomena, most games pass without their appearance. According an unofficial Shenhua news weibo, the Hongkou side has gone 39 CSL games without being awarded a spot-kick. Shenhua could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at conceding two in one game,  never mind four in the last two games played between the same teams at the same stadium. This time round, neither decision was absolutely wrong. Contact was minimal and not enough to either justify either forward going down or impede their movement in a way in which they were not also impeding their opponents movement. Certainly the whistle-happy referee seemed to give the green light to simulation on the part of Sainty’s players. Either way four penalties in two games simply isn’t right, and what fans and players want to see is consistency in decision making.

Sainty look to be rudderless without talismanic striker Christian Danalache upfront, the Nanjing side lacked a cutting edge and can consider themselves fortunate to take anything from the game. Not in terms of the penalties, which another referee would have not given, but Shenhua struck the woodwork twice and dominated possession with 65.5%. The visitors had 11 shots on goal with 5 on target, compared to the home side’s 11 and 3 – two of which from the penalty spot. It was a fact not lost on the Shenhua fans. “Do you like watching penalties? Please make your way to welcome to Nanjing penalty centre, and enjoy a crazy penalty show every Saturday evening,” was one such Weibo proffered by a member of Shenhua’s travelling support.

All in all an exciting game come what may, Sainty’s runners-up position last year really does look like a blip now, and for Shenhua, another morale-boosting result and fightback gained in challenging circumstances.

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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