In an all-time classic Chinese football match which will be rememebered for years to come, Shenhua knocked out SIPG FC in with a penalty shootout victory following a thrilling 3-3 draw on Wednesday
A plethora of spectacular goals, a capacity crowd, racous derby atmosphere, a late equalizer and a thrilling knock-out conclusion to the game made for an entertaining spectacle on a par with any football competition in the world.
CHINESE FA CUP QUARTER FINAL
Shanghai Shenhua 3
Wang Yun 25
SIPG FC 3
Wu Lei 27
Shenhua win 8-7 on penalties
The backdrop to the game was befitting of a Holywood movie script. An old, ailing local institution versus a league-topping newcomer taking over its turf. A feeling of resurgence in Shanghai football as two opponents with deep roots in the city both increasing in power. The feeling of the fixture tapping into the classic days of the old Shanghai Derby between Shenhua and Inter Shanghai. A sub-plot of political intrigue – the new boys SIPG’s alleged cosy connections to the mayor of Shanghai, and the “government football” accusastions after a card-happy refereee sent off three Shenhua players in the last derby. And of course the boardroom spat earlier in the week which saw Shenhua deny SIPG fans any tickets in response to being only given 2,000 briefs out of 46,500 at the May derby.
It’s hard to draw comparisions with the Shenhua – Inter derbies of the early 2000s. That was half a life-time ago in Chinese football terms. The two sides were neck-and-neck in the championship race when they played a derby games from the end in the 2003 season. Was that match more meaningful than the one which unfolded in Shanghai on Wednesday night? Who can say, but the added dimension of another derby in the league just days later meant the 2015 CFA cup Shanghai derby was always going to be massive.
And massive it was. SIPG won the toss – kicked-off facing the north terrace. This was probably a deliberate choice – Shenhua kick off facing the south terrace in 95% of all games, nevertheless both teams looked up for it right from the start.
There was no need to wait long for a goal – Gio Moreno controlled a long forward ball from Wang Yun on the right hand side of the box and promptly launched an overhead kick right into the net past a shocked Demba Ba who had his hands on his head in amazement at what Gio just done. The rest of the Hongkou crowd, whilst estatic in celebration, were not quite as amazed as Ba – they had seen it earlier this season when Gio scored an over head kick direct from a corner versus Hangzhou.
To do it again, in such a huge, hyped up game, was typical of the man’s sheer audacity and panache. “Somehow, Gio just one-upped himself,” remarked someone on the North Terrace and he summed it up perfectly.
Conca almost struck back a few minutes later with a long low shot which went just wide, but Shenhua came closer in the 14th minute when Tim Cahill crossed for Demba Ba who connected with the ball in the six yard box but somehow hit the bar. Moreno then set up Ba with a nice slide rule pass into the box by the former Chelsea man blasted his shot over the bar.
The game was being played with a frenetic pace and it had “more goals to come” written all over it. The next one indeed came in the 25th minute when Cao Yunding played Bai Jiajun through wide on the wing. The leftback’s cross was punched out by keeper Yan Junling. His clearance only went as far as Shenhua midfielder Wang Yun who volleyed the ball first time from outside the box over the defence and into the empty net before Yan could get back in position. It was a fantastic finish and Wang made it look easy.
At this point, those who were thinking Shenhua had it in the bag were sorely mistaken. Gyan came close with a header just a minute after the restart, before Wu Lei clawed one back in the 27th minute with a superlative half volley from a tight angle following a long pass forward. The Van Basten-esque finish was met with virtual silence as there were not away fans to celebrate, however the goal was worthy of a roar indeed.
SIPG should have equalized moments later when a bouncing ball evaded the Shenhua backline and presented Toby Hysen with a guilt-edged chance just inside the Shenhua box. However, the veteran Swede kicked his shot over the bar much to the relief of almost all of Hongkou Stadium.
The teams went in somewhat breathlessly at half-time as the crowd reflected on being treated to three top-class goals and a very entertaining first half.
The action didn’t let up in the second half. In the 53rd minute SIPG’s Yan pulled off a fanastic save from Tim Cahill’s downwards header with the north terrace just about to start celebrating such is the faith in the former Evertonian’s cranial talent.
However, it was Asamoah Gyan’s airel prowess which made the difference as he accurately headed home Lu Wenjun’s accurate cross into the middle of the box. SIPG’s players celebrated wildly on pulling back a two-goal decifit.
The men in red took heart from the equalizer and gained the upper hand. However just when it looked as if Shenhua might let the game slip away, a long ball forward was touched on by Cahill to Demba Ba, who held off Shi Ke with his strength then surprised everyone by scoring the second overhead kick of the night infront of the North Terrace who went absolutely spare.
SIPG upped their game to try to find an equalizer but Shenhua, spurred on by a capacity home crowd were committed to their lead. However, with just four minutes left on the clock, a careless Papadopolous foul around 30 yards out led to a free kick. More than a few fans were too afraid to watch as Conca stepped up. Their fears were well founded as the diminuative Argentinean scored with a low, bobbling effort which Shenhua keeper Geng Xiaofeng will surely be disappointed he didn’t get a hand to.
And so, a dramatic conclusion to normal time saw the game move onto further drama in the shape of a penalty shoot-out – no extra time is the rule in this round of the Chinese Cup. The tension hung in their air like a cold mist, smiles were few and many fans held their hands over their faces as the shoot-out began.
Both teams scored their first three penalties without difficulty, but Lv Wenjun took SIPG’s 4th penalty which was saved by Geng Xiaofeng. Sissoko then stepped up and punched the air as he dispatched Shenhua’s 4th to put his side ahead. Wu Lei then took SIPG’s fifth and scored emphaticaly with a high blast into the net.
It fell then to Shenhua’s Lv Zheng who needed to score to bring the Holywood movie to a close, and the former Shandong man stepped up cool as a cucumber to send Yan the wrong way and Hongkou into full bersek mode.
The theatrical conclusion to the match was a perfect end to a derby so entertaining, full of incident, passion, and amazing goals. So often matches hyped up like this one turn out to be an anti-climax. Not this time. The contest was that rare beast – a pulsating derby where the drama and entertainment levels were reflected by such quality action on the pitch and astounding goals.
The match lived up the hype and then some and was widely praised in the Chinese media as being an all-time classic game. “Shanghai Derby, a devine epic” said China Soccer News, “Years from now, this day will always be remembered,” opinioned the Oriental Sports Daily. And they were both correct.
Credit most of all was due to SIPG who defied pre-game rumours that they would take it easy in the cup to concentrate on the league. This was a team determinded to win, and anyone who loses out on a penalty shoot-out can only be described as unlucky.
SIPG upheld the reputation of the cup at a crucial juncture of the season, when fellow title-chasers Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande took their foot off the pedal in earlier rounds and surrendered meekly to lower league opposition.
Shenhua and SIPG get the chance to do it all over again on Sunday night again at Hongkou in a CSL match that will surely be keenly observed all over China.