SIPG FC secured a historic first win over city rivals, Shanghai Shenhua on Saturday evening in an action packed and ill-tempered Shanghai derby which saw the visitors rack up a staggering 3 red cards on their way to a humiliating 5-0 defeat.
A staggering 46,500 fans turned up to witness the biggest Shanghai derby in over 10 years, and while the sizeable Shenhua following will most certainly have ended the night nursing their wounds in the wake of their first ever defeat to their cross-city rivals, much of that same set of supporters left Xujiahui alleging accusations of conspiracy.
In truth, whilst SIPG may have found themselves the beneficiaries of one particularly lenient decision early in the game, their guests, on reflection, can have little case for appeal against any of their dismissals. However, a significant point of contention for the blue half of the city will be the flashpoint after less than 2 minutes, in which SIPG captain, Sun Xiang and Shenhua’s Tim Cahill came together as Wang Yun prepared to deliver an attacking free kick.
As the pair tussled for position, arms of both players were raised with Sun’s catching Cahill in the face as the two came together. Cahill – wearing a protective mask designed to shield a broken nose – clearly took exception to what he saw as a deliberate attempt to inflict more damage upon his face and reacted by reaching out to grab the arm of his aggressor.
Whereas the routine course of action for a match official under these circumstances would be to have a quiet word with both players and remind them of their responsibilities in the occasion, referee Ma Ning apparently adjudged Cahill to have crossed a line, whereas Sun escaped punishment entirely. Showing Cahill the first of 9 yellow cards produced throughout the game, Ma thus unwittingly set the game on course to be one of the most highly charged affairs in recent CSL history.
While the incident was undoubtedly harsh on Shenhua, the visitors were the architects of their own demise for much of the remaining 88 minutes, allowing their tempers to flare wildly out of control in the face of a perceived refereeing bias. Indeed, much of the first 20 minutes passed by with a number of SIPG fans wondering if the evening would finish with yet another failure to take 3 points from their ‘older brothers’ as the visiting side started the game on the front foot. Gao Di had arguably the best chance of the first 45 minutes with a half volley from outside the area which forced the in-form Yan Junling into an excellent flying save.
However, the momentum of the game irrevocably shifted in the 17th minute, as Shenhua winger, Lv Zheng produced a horrendous, career threatening challenge on SIPG midfielder, Davi. That the Brazilians piercing shriek could be heard from deep amongst the fervent home support tells much about the horrific nature of the challenge. TV replays show the referee was entirely justified in brandishing a red card; Lv’s leading leg so high up Davi’s leg he could have taken his kneecap off.
If the earlier disparate sanctions had upset Shenhua players and fans alike, it is fair to say Lv’s dismissal elevated this sentiment to sheer outrage – a feeling that would become all too familiar as the game progressed. Less than 10 minutes later, left back Bai Jiajun found himself the recipient of a yellow card after he fended off Darío Conca with a push of an outstretched arm to the chest – soft, perhaps; correct, yes – this only added more to the visitors’ desperate sense of injustice.
When he received his marching orders after collecting his second yellow card for a shocking challenge on SIPG right back Fu Huan – right on the edge of his own penalty area and with just moments of the first half remaining – the game itself was effectively over (despite the scores remaining at 0-0).
Despite his protestations at the time, Bai can have no complaints over his sending off (his second in 2 seasons in this fixture against his former club); his poorly timed, studs-up, mid-air lunge on Fu would have seen the defender shown a straight red card under any other circumstances. However, his sanction served only to heighten his side’s level of opprobrium towards referee Ma, as his teammates struggled to control their emotions, leading to a lengthy break in play while players were reminded of their responsibilities of actually playing football.
The subsequent free kick – 7 minutes into first half stoppage time – was dispatched by Conca, having wrong-footed goalkeeper Geng Xiaofeng, and sent SIPG fans into raptures going into half time, with their side a goal and two men to the good. Shenhua, on the other hand, continued to vociferously express their sense of persecution as the two sides made their way towards the dressing rooms.
Nevertheless, as the second 45 minutes got underway, things would not get any easier for them; as another Conca free kick found its way past Geng in goal just two minutes after the restart; this time via the outstretched thigh of defender Avraam Papadopoulos. With SIPG now holding a two-man, two-goal advantage, the result of the tie was patently settled, although there was still plenty of action yet to unfold.
The home side’s greater numbers allowed them total control of the ball, as Shenhua floundered to plug the gaps vacated by their teammates respective indiscretions, and a third goal was bagged just six minutes later. Fu Huan, playing in an increasingly advanced wing back role thanks to the vast amount of space now available in front of him, slid a simple ball through to Wu Lei, whose burst of pace took him away from Shenhua’s labouring defensive pair, Li Jianbin and Papadopoulos, before a pinpoint finish put SIPG further in front.
By now SIPG were playing as though this were a training exercise, in total control of the tempo of the game, and at times simply toying with their understaffed and overwhelmed opponents, and it was no surprise to see a fourth goal fly in off the head of Tobias Hysén on 64 minutes, after some exquisite footwork from Conca took him away from Stopilla Sunzu. Despite legitimate claims for a foul, the SIPG number 10 simply chipped a delightful ball back across the box whilst still on the floor, allowing the unmarked Hysén to nod home.
While the nature and events of the occasion were clearly too much for a number of Shenhua players, one player in particular – Li Jianbin – derserves special denigration for allowing himself to be added to the list of dismissals with a little under half an hour of the contest still to play. Having already been booked in the first half, Li had been visibly indignant at the day’s proceedings for much of the game; culminating in him verbally abusing the referee, and reaching out to manhandle the official, before being forcibly dragged away by his teammates. Needless to say, referee Ma took the only course of action available to him and pulled out his third red card of the night.
In the aftermath of Li’s sending off, the game descended further into farce, as a clash between SIPG assistant and Shenhua translator Zhou Xin brought a moment of pure pantomime that raised a few smiles and served to lessen the general angst and tension of the day. The pair were seen exchanging words on the touchline as Li left the pitch, before Walker brushed Zhou’s cheek with his hand in what can only be described as the faintest of slaps. What followed was a masterclass in histrionics, as Zhou tumbled to the ground clasping his face and pointing at the former England goalkeeper. Shenhua’s own Tim Cahill clearly saw the ridiculousness of his colleague’s actions, laughing along with Walker as Zhou sheepishly picked himself up off the floor.
With Shenhua down to 8 men and the game’s remaining 25 minutes almost an exercise in futility, SIPG simply kept the ball moving amongst themselves, waiting for an opportunity in the final third as their guests toiled. One such opportunity came on 71 minutes, with Hysén pulling away from Sunzu inside the box and once again finding himself with plenty of time and space to head home the inbound cross.
As full time finally arrived following a Shanghai derby that will live long in the memories of the red half of Shanghai, the visiting fans (admirably staunchly committed to their team throughout the entire affair) continued to wave their 100RMB notes towards the officials. Shenhua’s players meanwhile, continued to remonstrate with the match officials – rejecting the notion of a pre-match handshake in the process. While nobody can question their grievances over the game-defining incident in the second minute, on balance, each of the sendings off were justifiable and it must be said that SIPG simply handled the occasion a great deal better than their opposition. Although the match, as a contest, was over by half time, credit must be given to SIPG, and their manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, for confidently and effectively getting the job done.
So, after another three points secured in an extraordinary Shanghai derby, SIPG hold on to the CSL’s top spot for one more week. They take on Guangzhou Evergrande this Friday evening, in a top of the table clash that will go some way towards determining the course of the 2015 title. Whereas Sven’s side can expect an entirely different affair from the previous weekend; having bagged their first win over their city rivals in such comprehensive fashion, they can travel to Tianhe with the confidence to perform a great deal better than they did during their own dismal 5-0 loss in the same fixture last year.