Shanghai Shenhua’s new-look strikeforce made the difference with a double from Lucas Viatri in a game which saw a Chamanga-inspired 10-man Liaoning almost snatch an unlikely point.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 16
Shanghai Shenhua 3
Cao Yunding 8′
Viatri 45’+2, 82′
Liaoning Whowin 2
Yang Chaosheng 68′
An early gift from the visitors set the tone of a fraught occasion, goalkeeper Zhang Lu making remarkably heavy work of a backpass to allow Cao Yunding to steal an opportunist opener. Less than ten minutes were on the clock and the game already looked to be heading in one direction – a direction that became clearer on the stroke of half-time as Paulo Henrique, full of running from start to finish, crafted two chances for Argentine strike partner Luis Viatri. The first was cleared off the line with more than a suspicion of handball, but it was not to matter as the Brazilian was given far too much time to pick out a second ball – a flighted cross to the far post superbly turned in by a Viatri scissor-kick. It was the kind of quality usually delivered only in flashes by suspended club captain Gio Moreno – the transfer window seemingly adding a few more strings to Shenhua’s bow.
While the home side appeared not to miss their standout player (his absence meaning a full complement of foreign strikers and centre-halves could actually be fielded), the visitors were heavily dependent on theirs – the excellent Chamanga fizzling with menace in an otherwise one-paced and one-dimensional side.
The second half began in much the same manner as the first – visitors seemingly intent on self-destruction as an aimless ball drifted over the Liaoning defence somehow managed to leave Kim Tae-Yan wrong-footed and the wrong side of Paulo Henrique. His scramble to recover position was clumsy, but the resulting free-kick and red card appeared harsh in the extreme – the referee himself seeming unsure until a linesman’s flag intervened.
Game over, then? Most match reports would end around now, as a home side two goals and one man to the good close out an uneventful finale. Shenhua, however, aren’t most sides, and Liaoning continued to probe an outfit that never quite look comfortable when ‘controlling’ a lead. The breakthrough came from the most likely source, Chamanga somehow finding himself unmarked from a set piece on the hour mark, his emphatic header opening up the contest and prompting familiar groans in the stands. Less than ten minutes later, he turned provider, twisting and turning to craft an exquisite ball in the direction of Yang Chaosheng. Bai Jiajun was in prime position to intercept, but somehow allowed the ball to run on and the attacker made no mistake in his first appearance of the season.
The closing stages took the familiar shape of an ever-scrappy scramble for a Shenhua winner, and it was for once delivered – Cao Yunding finding his way to the byline and cutting back to the feet of Viatri, who finished into the roof of a crowded goalmouth with eight minutes remaining. The histrionics and timewasting of the away team began to look ill-advised, and the home side took on the mantle of delaying every kick and milking every injury – a regular feature of the CSL that does the league no favours. A final rush of blood saw keeper Zhang Lu, responsible for the opening debacle and most of the time-wasting, attacking a late corner and managing nothing more than a wayward header – further endearing himself to those in the stands.
Chamanga looks the sole source of salvation for a poor Liaoning side, and if relegation is to be avoided they’ll be heavily dependent on his interventions. Shenhua had looked similarly dependent on Gio Moreno for arresting their own decline, but that burden seems lessened by the newly acquired strike pairing – Paulo Henrique the more eye catching with the strength, pace and trickery to stretch defences, but Luis Viatri now the man with four goals in two games since joining. His movement can generously be deemed ‘economical’, only coming alive when the ball is within touching distance, but there’s an argument that this Shenhua side have needed a more central focal point to their attacks, and in the technically astute Argentinian they may just have found it.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015