Shanghai East Asia 0-1 Shanghai Shenhua
Chinese Super League round 22
An impressive four-game Shanghai derby whitewash was the outcome on Saturday night as Shenhua defeated neighbours Shanghai East Asia 1-0 in a scrappy match on Saturday night.
The hard-fought victory meant Shenhua have won all four of their Shanghai Derbies this season against Shenxin and East Asia in an unexpected display of local dominance.
With the hottest Shanghai summer in decades showing no let-up, the match was played a sweltering evening heat of around 34c. To make matters worse, conditions underfoot on the pitch were absolutely appalling. The turf at Shanghai Stadium appeared not to have been watered for months, a dead, yellow surface with pockets of light green was subject of ridicule in the Shanghai media before the game and from Shenhua press officer Ma Yue. The state of the pitch said everything about the priority of football in Shanghai – finely manicured park lawns and roadside flower displays can be seen being regularly watered ever day in the city. However, since the surface at Shanghai Stadium is not on daily display, it’s not properly maintained.
There is an ever-growing sense of rivalry developing between Shenhua and East Asia. With so many familiar players and staff between the two sides friction is inevitable, with East Asia owned and chaired by former Shenhua coach and Shangahinese football godfather Xu Genbao. It was another individual with connections to both sides who was to be the focus of pre-match controversy however – left back Bai Jiazhun. He joined Shenhua from East Asia on a permanent transfer at the start of this season having been loaned for the second half of last season. In the week leading up to the fixture, East Asia contacted Shenhua to remind them that under the terms of the transfer, Bai Jiazhun was not eligible to face his former club at their home stadium. An unusual stipulation, but it dispelled any notions that East Asia would do any “favours” to help their relegation-threatened neighbours.
The placement of Shenhua’s sizeable away support was also controversial – most were stuck up nosebleed seats in the 3rd tier in the SW corner of the 80,000 capacity stadium – as far away from the action as was possible. It made for a very poor view of the goal at the opposite end of the pitch.
When the game finally kicked off, Bai Jiazhun was missing from the Shenhua line-up as expected. However Zhan Yilin, another former East Asia player was not and he lined up on the left side of midfield. East Asia had their new-look Aussie strike force in place, with Daniel McBreen lining up front with Bernie Ibini-Isei with Wu Lei slotting in behind.
In keeping with most derbies, the quality of football in the first half left something to be desired and there was little in the way of remarkable incident. East Asia wonder kid Wu Lei came close after 15 minutes when he received a through ball but put it just wide. East Asia had most of the chances, but Shenhua’s defence was up to the task. The visitors didn’t make many serious inroads into their opponent’s goal until the 28th minute when Cao Yunding, looking energized against his former club, went on a mazy forward run evading several opponents but being forced wide. His cross was volleyed accurately by Gio Moreno, but the Columbian’s shot was saved easily by East Asia keeper Yan Junling. Patrico Toranzo went close with an in swinging freekick not long after, but his cross-cum-shot was pushed safe by Yan.
In the second half, perhaps in the hope of spurring on their teams to deliver a more exciting spectacle, both sets of fans in the relatively big crowd were going at it full tilt in terms of shouting their heroes on, with many male fans stripped bare to the waist in the stifling evening heat. The breakthrough came in the 51st minute, Gio Moreno controlling a rather heavy close range Toranzo pass to hold off four defenders and fire home through the tightest of spaces with a low accurate shot which flew just inside Yan Junling’s near post. The home keeper looked suitably annoyed with himself, for he had been taken by surprise by Moreno electing to shoot from a seemingly impossible position rather than pass. If only he had been a regular on the north terrace this season, he would not have been caught unawares. The goal was greeted with a truly massive cheer from the huge away contingent, and Moreno remembered to keep the gentry and any old grannies happy by not removing his shirt and getting booked. It was not a particularly deserved lead, but Shenhua were one-up.
East Asia tried to take control of the game, and in the 70th minute, Wang Dalei pulled off the first of several saves to keep Shenhua ahead when he stopped a close range shot from the right side of the box from Wu Lei. Just moments later he pulled off a stunning reflex tip over the bar from Ibini-Isei whose turn and shot from not far off the outer edge of the six yard box looked to be destined for the net, as the East Asia faithful gasped with disbelief that their team had not equalized.
Shenhua still had their chances however, and Toranzo should have sealed it in injury time from the edge of the area after a long run and nice cut-back from Firas Al-khatib. Although the Argentine’s miss was not as monumentally incompetent as Jiang Kun’s the following week, he, like his ageing midfield team-mate, should have at least gotten a shot on target.
The visitors looked nervy, having conceded numerous result-changing goals in the closing stages in recent games. Could they hold on? East Asia pushed for an equalizer, and when the ball fell on the right of the penalty box to Lin Chuangyi it looked like it would be another nightmare finish as the substitute cued up his shot from close range. However, cometh the hour, cometh the man – Wang Dalei pulled off one of the most stunning saves your correspondent has seen in years by pushing the shot onto the post for it to bounce safe. A save fit to win any derby, and win a derby it did as the final whistle sounded moments later to a mass chorus from the away fans high above the action in the upper tier.
With their victory Shenhua had edged another very close encounter by a single goal, thanks largely to the individual brilliance of Wang Dalei and Gio Moreno. The former continues to be a massive asset to Shenhua, whilst Moreno’s wasteful performances are only redeemed by his match-changing flashes of excellence which have bagged numerous crucial points for his side. Moreno could quite possibly be one of the most frustrating players ever to turn out in blue in Shanghai, he goes from wasting possession on multiple occasions in every game due to over-elaboration, to scoring game-winning goals in the flash of an eye. However, thanks to results elsewhere this weekend, and last, Shenhua suddenly find themselves nine points clear of the dangerzone with just eight games left – 14 days ago Shenhua were just 3 points off second-bottom.
East Asia may have felt aggrieved not to take anything from the second derby of the season against Shenhua. But for the genius of Wang Dalei, they would have drawn and possibly won this game. A breath of fresh air into not just the Shanghai football scene, but Chinese football in general, their style of play and emphasis on local talent has won them many admirers and Shenhua will have to play a lot better to take the points in their next meeting, whenever that may be.
The game was played in a fairly good spirit although there were minor scuffles before and after the match. During the game, Shenhua fans frequently chanted “smash the 80,000 stadium, grab Bai Wanqing” ( 踏平八万人，活捉柏万青) in reference to East Asia’s most prominent supporter, People’s National Congress member Bai Wanqing, a middle-aged Shanghainese woman who is something of a local celebrity as host of a TV show which aims to solve family disputes. She recently made herself unpopular with Shenhua fans by suggesting all three Shanghai sides should merge.
The result saw Shenhua move ahead of East Asia in the table, but it’s looking increasingly like a merger, however unlikely, will be the only way this edition of the Shanghai Derby does not feature on the CSL fixture list next year.