The Chinese Super League and particularly Shanghai rivals Shenhua & SIPG have recently gained the football world’s gaze; albeit focused on the caliber and salaries of their foreign star players. The overspending on import fuels the modern narrative of Chinese excess coupled with lack of football substance and overlooks the reality of a fixture that deserves to be acknowledged as one of the major sporting events on the continent.
Since the arrival of Shanghai East Asia FC into the CSL in 2013, the on field rivalry that has captured the imagination of the city’s football devoted has been ever controversial and tense affairs with stalwarts and frequent underachievers Shenhua. Newcomers East Asia rebadged themselves as SIPG, announcing themselves as title contenders in recent years, in doing so taking Shanghai’s top billing from Shenhua becoming the city’s sole representative in the Asian Champions League.
The antithesis of the bright lights, capacity crowds and foreign stars of the derby, is the only other professional league meeting of Shanghai football clubs, further down in the national 3rd tier; China League 2. The league is the highest competition in Chinese FA’s system which doesn’t allow foreign signings and is the lowest of the national professional leagues.
Saturday’s ‘Other Shanghai Derby’ was contested at the Shanghai Chemical Industry Park Stadium, home to Shanghai Sunfun FC in the southernmost district of Fengxian. A multipurpose stadium 2kms from the waters of Hangzhou Bay and, predictably, within the Shanghai Chemical Industry Park. Without an official ticketing arrangement, a lazy 3 hour round trip from downtown with seemingly no public transport within 30 miles; no wonder then, that this derby attracted less than 400 observers (video highlights)
This was the first meeting between newly promoted Sunfun from local amateur ranks and Shanghai Juju Sports FC who moved to Shanghai in 2016 after their first 2 years as a League 2 club based in Kunming.
Both clubs are intrinsically linked to Shenhua with management, ex-players and even 10 current players loaned from the top flight club between them. This season Juju Sports home matches are even hosted at Shenhua’s training base in the Pudong suburb of Kangqiao.
With the promise of ‘Sun & Fun’ from the home side’s promotional material, the former was delivered in spades as the match kicked off on a perfect 24 degree afternoon. The ‘fun’ would come too, as occasional bizarre events made this a memorable first meeting of the two clubs.
Barely 7 minutes into the match, a speculative 30 yard drive from Juju’s Gao Shipeng headed directly at a motionless Sunfun gloveman and captain, Dong Guangxiang who inexplicably fumbled the ball over his head and into the net. A moment of absolute calamity for which Dong will long have nightmares about.
The nightmare should have been complete a minute later as Juju’s Wang Fei was played through one on one from his own halfway line only to be barged over well outside the box by the advancing Dong, who Wang had just played the ball past with the empty net beckoning. Somehow, perhaps out of sympathy for the earlier mishap, Dong was only shown a yellow card for the textbook denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
Sensing blood, Juju continued to push directly and dangerously through the midfield as Sunfun’s defence were often left flatfooted. Conversely, Sunfun would patiently work the ball to wide areas and rely on Wu Changqi and Shang Yin to create space in wide areas.
On 18 minutes, in a rare direct approach for Sunfun, Pan Jiyuan glided onto a long ball and through on goal until Cao Chuanyu, Juju’s #10 wearing centreback, came from nowhere with a superb all or nothing sliding tackle.
The pace and intensity was a gear higher than previous matches this season and several choice tackles were rewarded with yellow cards as both sets of players tried to assert their authority. We had a derby after all.
Before half time both sides spurned dangerous free headers in the six yard box. Sunfun via a typical wide cross and Juju from a freekick on the edge of the box as Sunfun’s defenders became wise to the approach of the Juju frontline.
When they returned from the break, both Dong and his opponent in Juju’s goal, Chen Nancun had their work cut out as a several shots from the edge of the box tested them high and low.
As the second half carried on, it became a scrappier affair. Sunfun’s desperation to equalize meant their structure was relaxed, as Juju focused on scrambling away the home side’s every foray into attack.
Along the left wing, Juju’s Yan Xinyu, was ever present; constantly overpowering and winning the ball at ground level and in the air.
There were some clear chances still though and fresh substitute Li Lianxiang botched the most obvious for Juju. A slalom run through the Sunfun defence left him with a clear sight on goal only for him to dribble it through to a thankful Dong.
Injury time approached and a time wasting ‘cramping’ Juju defender went down requesting assistance. His wish was granted by two Sunfun midfielders who decided to pick him up, carry him several metres to the sideline and unceremoniously dump him outside the field of play. Juju players fussed momentarily, but the referee did nothing and seconds later Sunfun had thrown the ball into play and all was forgotten.
As Sunfun pushed forward late they were rewarded with a free kick on the edge of the box after a professional handball thwarted their attack. Central to most of the drama throughout, Dong came rushing out of his box and was the first to get to his opposite number, Chen’s block from Sunfun defender Liu Shuai’s low shot. Chen had forced it out and Dong nonchalantly collected the ball before sprinting over to become likely the only ever goalkeeper I will ever see take a corner himself.
The quick corner was swatted away and a jubilant Juju Sports had weathered the final storm offered by Sunfun, claiming local bragging rights for the division until at least late July.
Little wonder, with so many of them owned by the same parent club then, that the late aggression and tension did nothing to deter from the jovial banter between both sets of players after their bows before the opposition benches.
All a little bit of fun. And sun.
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