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Last-second blunder costs Shenhua victory against Changchun

A perplexing goalkeeping blunder from Shenhua’s Geng Xiaofeng cost the Shanghai side a vaulable three points away  to Changchun Yatai and continued their miserable 8-year run of not having won a CSL match in the Dongbei city.

The visitors had twice led the match but a harmless-looking looping header from Rafael Coelho with literally seconds on the clock denied coach Sergio Batista a winning start in his first match back in the Shenhua hotseat.

CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 5

Changchun Yatai 2
Ismailov 25′

Coelho 90′
Shanghai Shenhua 2
Ruiz 9′,
Gao Di 43′

In an ironic twist of fate, Batista began his first stint as Shenhua boss at the very same place almost two years ago – an occasion on which Shenhua lost 2-0 and Cao Yunding the only player to feature in the starting XI that day and in yesterdays match.  This time Shenhua would manage to get on the scoresheet however – not that surprising considering the slow, square-toed and useless Mattieu Mansett was Shenhua’s sole forward back in 2012.

Another shocking statistic dug up before the game showed Shenhua had not won outside of Shanghai for over 31 matches – their last such victory not away to Shenxin or East Asia was against a team that don’t even exist anymore –  Dalian Shide, with the victory coming in April 2012.

The visitors looked undaunted however by all that and the match was not even 10 minutes old when Shenhua took the lead. Xu Liang took a bouncing ball in the middle of the park just outside the area and lobbed it carefully over Changchun’s backline to the oncoming Gao Di. The striker controlled it well but then fluffed his shot which was bobbling wide until Columbian striker Luis Ruiz slide in at the back post to score his first goal for his new club.

Changchun looked ruffled by the early setback and Shenhua took the initative to play some flowing stuff for a period.  However the home side didn’t take too long to equalize – Montinegrian striker Fatos Beqiraj got the better of defender Cho Byung-Kuk to nod a corner into the path of team-mate Anzur Ismailov. The Uzbek defender made no mistake from close range to knock the ball into the net for the equalizer.

Both teams struggled on the hard and bouncy surface for the rest of the half, before Gio Moreno chested a ball into the path of on-rushing Cao Yunding. The Shanghainese playmaker controlled the ball and went on a forward run before releasing a nice through ball for Ruiz to latch onto in the penalty area. The Columbian’s path to goal was already blocked off so he squared it for an unmarked Gao Di, who took one touch before patiently slotting it home with a very cool finish.

In the second half Changchun came out looking to defend their proud unbeaten record against Shenhua at home, and in the 61st minute a low ball to the edge of the box found Li Xiaoting after Shenhua midfielder Xu Liang failed to control and clear. Li Xiaoting  managed to fend off a challenge and get a shot in, but Geng Xiaofeng in the Shenhua goal was equal to the task.

Midfielder Eninho put Liu Weidong through on the Shenhua goal with a good low ball some moments later, but the Changchun striker just couldn’t reach the ball in time on the fast surface.  Coelho came very close in the 72nd minute when the ball fell to him outside the area but his low drilled shot flew just wide of the post.
In the 81st minute some link-up play saw Ruiz feed Moreno into a promising position. The Columbian midfielder did the hard work of controlling the ball but put his shot wide of the post when he should probably have done better.
In the closing stages, Changchun custodian Song Zhenyu went up for a corner which unfortunately for the home side was swiftly cleared up the park. The ball feel to Wang Changqing, on as a sub for Cao Yunding. However, with the Changchun goal at his mercy, the utility man didn’t even manage to get a shot in from the far side of the pitch and the chance was lost.
Shenhua’s failure to score a third goal was be punished in cruel circumstances when, with just seconds of the four mintues of injury time remaining, a lobbed cross into the box found the head of Rafael Coelho. The former Guangzhou R&F forward caught Geng Xiaofeng dozing – the Shenhua keeper somehow allowing a looping header to dip in the top corner of the goal despite appearing to have been in a position to deal with the tame effort adequately. The home fans erupted and the final whistle blew soon after.
The result was not a travesty as both sides had chances to win the match. Changchun however did not look like a side which had beaten champions Evergrande just a fortnight ago, and Shenhua did look like new coach Batista had some kind of attacking plan unlike his predecessor Shen Xiangfu. The inevitable comparisons with departed star Shenhua keeper Wang Dalei will be made – that is, Shenhua would have won this game when Wang in goal and not Geng – but the truth is any half-decent keeper would have kept out Changchun’s equalizer and your correspondent can only wonder what was going through Geng’s mind at the time.
Changchun will be happy to rescue a point in such circumstances but on this showing both teams are likely to feature at the wrong end of the table this season.

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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Shanghai Shenhua

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Established: 1993

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