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North Terrace News: Shenhua head south looking to keep run-in momentum

The return of the CSL for the home stretch sees Shanghai Shenhua visit Guangzhou R&F for Sunday evening’s big game. Can the Hongkou side come out of their toughest remaining fixture and consolidate their position in the race for Asian Champions League qualification?

How can I disappoint you? Let me count the ways…

Although it feels a long time ago (primarily because it was a long time ago, thanks to the international break being extended thanks to an all-important CFA training camp which fully prepared the national side to take one point from two games), Shenhua’s last week of action kicked off with groundhog day once again – Jiangsu Sainty Suning in a crucial cup tie.

Having previously thrown away this fixture through an awful opening spell in 2013 and a throughly flat two-legged show last year, Shenhua this time succumbed to their paper-thin squad being stretched just slightly too far – already missing their figurehead #9 and a couple of first-choice center-backs, the absence of both fullbacks saw Shenhua’s defence fail to withstand Jiangsu’s probing – Obafemi Martins’ two goals bookmarking a middle of the game in which keeper Li Shuai once again looked over the hill and unable to repel the away side which was being waved through by the stand-ins in front of him.

Although there is a second leg in Nanjing to come in October, and Martins’ last-gasp goal to pull things back to 2-3 gives the Hongkou side a sliver of hope to cling on to, the cup is basically over for Shenhua – a side who have never won a game in Nanjing now need to do so by two clear goals.

Winning while playing badly

A club with a proud tradition of shooting itself in the foot seemed to be heading for another meltdown the weekend after their latest cup surrender – with half-time approaching in a home banker against a bang average Liaoning side, Shenhua were trailing 1-0 to a regulation set-piece and still struggling for fluency. Come the hour, come the man – captain Gio Moreno stepping up to slam a high-caliber finish into the corner and set the side up to lay siege to the visiting side in the second half, with Oba Martins (who else?) once again putting away the late winner which sealed the points for his side. From a bit-part player whose substitute appearances put the gloss on already-finished games, Martins has embraced his return to center stage following the season-ending injury to Demba Ba; there is a case to be made that Shenhua have the two best #9s in the league in their squad.

A golden opportunity

Shenhua are basically in a direct fight with their cross-city rivals at this point – Jiangsu are staying ahead of the chasing pack and perhaps even smelling blood from an ailing Evergrande as the champions-elect limp towards the finish line, and Hebei’s dip in the second half of the season is unlikely to be arrested even by top-drawer managerial appointments. It’s Shenhua vs Shanghai International Port Group for third spot and ACL qualification; with Shanghai International Port group having snatched a last-minute draw against Beijing Guoan on Friday, it’s Shenhua with the momentum here. With six games apiece to go after Sunday – and a slightly more favorable fixture list than their neighbors – Shenhua have the opportunity to open up a four-point gap if they return from Guangzhou with all three points.

A difficult assignment

R&F away is, however, the toughest game Shenhua have left. Although they won this fixture 1-0 in the early throes of their table-topping start to 2015, Shenhua generally don’t travel well – and their opponents are coming into this one on a high, with a solid 2016 season being led by the impressive Dragan Stojkovic, and mid-season signing Eran Zehavi proving nigh-on unplayable. R&F have recently been busy bloodying Evergrande’s noses in their own cup derby, and have racked up an aggregate score of 13-12 in their past five games – including positive results against the ACL-chasing Shanghai International Port Group and Hebei, along with a madcap 5-4 win in Chongqing.

We’ve been here before, however – after a sluggish start, R&F were coming into form when they visited Hongkou back in mid-May, only to be clinically dismantled by a Qin Sheng midfield masterclass and incisive counterattacking football with five different players getting on the scoresheet in a 5-1 win.

Prediction & reality check

Given R&F’s recent freewheeling record – and Shenhua’s quality in attack and threadbare injury-hit defence – don’t expect a 0-0 here. Predicting an away win for Shenhua is always difficult, especially against a side in decent form over the past couple of months – however, the type of counter-attacking play they displayed in that Hongkou win is exactly what Shenhua will need again if they’re to come out on top on Sunday evening. Much will depend on whether Bai Jiajun is fit to return at left-back in place of the unsure Wang Lin; Bai adds energy and quality to both the defence and attack, and much of Shenhua’s struggles in their past couple of games came from having two full-backs who weren’t able to overlap or support the wingers ahead of them.

Shenhua are – cup fixtures aside – making a point of turning up in the big games and getting the job done this year. Provided that the international break has allowed the side to rest up and recuperate, and not caused any loss of focus or momentum, then third spot really is there for the taking – as is a share of the spoils in an entertaining 2-2 draw Sunday night.

Shenhua in 2016 according to North Terrace News:

P 23   W 10   D 7   L 6   GF 35  GA 30   GD +5   Pts 37

Shenhua in 2016 according to the CSL table:

P 23   W 11   D 7   L 5   GF 38   GA 24   GD +14   Pts 40

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.



  1. Donald Ross

    12/09/2016 at 01:25

    I can’t believe there were only two goals in that game. R&F were taught a harsh lesson about what happens when you don’t make your pressure count.

    • Cameron Wilson

      13/09/2016 at 10:05

      Shenhua’s defence was chaotic and disorganized, frightening considering 3 of the 4 are meant to be first choice. R&F can consider themselves a bit unlucky not to take all three points, whilst Shenhua reverted to their usual horrible away form.

    • Dylan Shi

      15/09/2016 at 12:54

      I was somewhat surprised at how quiet Zahavi was. I was apprehensive about what he might do to Shenhua before the match, but it was mostly other R&F attackers scaring the living shit out of Shenhua defenders. I wonder whether Shenhua devoted particular focus to him in their match preparations.

      But yeah, I agree. R&F were the better team and will be disappointed with that result. Especially Jiang Zhipeng and his moustache.

  2. jrbh

    12/09/2016 at 17:12

    A question.

    Vis. ACL qualification, if Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Jiangsu Suning are the top three in the CSL and one of them wins the FA Cup, won’t the fourth place team in the CSL then also qualify for the Champion’s League?

    • Cameron Wilson

      13/09/2016 at 10:18

      Yes, although whoever finished 4th would only make the qualifying round and not straight to the group stage, in the same way the 3rd placed team would.

      • jrbh

        15/09/2016 at 16:52

        Excellent. Although Shanghai SIPG, finishing second last year, had to do a play-in game, too. (The two straight-to-group spots went to the CSL champion and the FA Cup Winner.

        Shanghai had to play Thai side Muangthang, at home, and it was pretty much a walkover. Shandong got the tough assignment; they had to go to Australia and win to advance. That’s the position Shanghai SIPG would be in this year if they finish fourth and Guangzhou R&F doesn’t somehow win the damned cup.

        • Dylan Shi

          16/09/2016 at 13:00

          Yeah, the champion and the cup winner get the group stage spots, that’s correct. The league runner-up must get through a qualifier, while the team placing third must get through two qualifiers. If Evergrande, Jiangsu or Shenhua win the cup while placing in the top three, fourth would need two qualifiers, not one. So if Shanghai Shanghai International Port Group Football Club Company Limited were to finish fourth and a team above them were to win the cup, they’d have to play one more qualifier than they did last year. The opposition in the first qualifier couldn’t be Australian; it would be Muangthong, Bangkok United, Southern District of Hong Kong, the Vietnamese champions, Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia, Bengaluru of India, the Indonesian champions, Yadanarbon of Myanmar or the Filipino champions. Facing Brisbane in the second qualifier would be possible, though.

          • jrbh

            17/09/2016 at 11:56

            Right, they wouldn’t play the Australian team until the second qualifier. But they’d probably have to go to Australia to do it.

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