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CFA Cup final round two! Is the biggest Shanghai derby the city has ever known upon us?

Excitement was plentiful last week as SIPG took on Shenhua in the first leg of a cup final Shanghai derby, with the general consensus being SIPG would win if not put the tie beyond doubt before the 2nd leg kicked off. But things turned out very differently as Wild East Football reveals in this preview for the final match of the 2017 Chinese football season.

Basics

It’s the 2nd leg of the CFA cup final Shanghai derby and Shenhua take a 1-0 lead to SIPG’s Shanghai Stadium. Read our preview from last week  for the background. It’s everything to play for and this game couldn’t be more finely poised. The game kicks off at 20.00 local time (originally scheduled for 19.35 but moved) this Sunday.

Gio Moreno points to goal creator Liu Ruofan, who points to the Shenhua badge after the home side scored in the 1st leg

An unexpectedly massive second leg awaits

The build up to the 1st leg of the derby cup final last week left a little to be desired. SIPG came into the game as hot favourites off the back of their best ever season, finishing Chinese Super League runners-up and Asian Champions League semi-finalists, and having scored nine goals against Shenhua over two CSL derbies this year. Shenhua supporters weren’t stupid – they had the bearing of a death row prisoner and fear of another crushing derby defeat, after a terrible season in which they somehow stumbled into the cup final. So pretty much everyone thought the game would be a foregone conclusion and this inevitably took the edge of the fixture somewhat.

However, as so often happens in football derbies, Shenhua threw the form book out of the window to come up with a result that completely changes everything.

How to watch

Again, little info is available on official Internet streams. The match will be on CCTV5 again on terrestrial Chinese TV – they have a livestream here which may or may not work outside of China. Other than that… well, Google is your friend as they say.

Advantage Shenhua

Last Sunday’s match wasn’t a classic Shanghai derby but it still managed to deliver drama with an unexpected twist in the shape of a 1-0 Shenhua victory. As WEF hypothesised in the preview for the first game, Obafemi Martins would be a better bet upfront than Tevez for Shenhua, and:

 

“…the only one real scenario which sees Shenhua win this game – a bad day at the office for SIPGs forwards, who, tired and weary after a long season and spooked by a hostile partisan crowd, let the pressure of expectation to clinch silverware at the 3rd time of asking this season get to them. This combined with either a flash of Gio genius, or a made-in-Shanghai Cao Yunding or Mao Jianqing counter-attack to create and finish one of the limited chances Shenhua are liable to get”

Wu Lei had another disappointing Shanghai Derby

Sure enough, SIPGs Wu Lei was a damp squib, Hulk hit shots over the bar all night, and Wu Jingui dropped Tevez in favour of Martins who scored the only goal of the game.  This came following a neat 1-2 between local hero Cao and 18-year-old Liu Ruofan, who squared the ball for the veteran Nigerian striker to poke it home. WEF called it!

The result was a fairly big surprise for most connected with Chinese football. But should it have been? Yes and no. We can’t forget Shenhua’s dismal form in previous derbies earlier this year – particularly THAT 6-1 drubbing only two months ago. But the blue side were playing at home and nowhere in Chinese football is the influence of the 12th man more obvious than at Hongkou stadium. Even in Shenhua’s darkest and most desperate times, it is still fairly unusual for them to lose at Hongkou. And SIPG couldn’t go on winning against Shenhua forever.

Also helping to explain the home side’s improved fortunes was the fact that Qin Sheng was also finally back in the Shenhua first team and his influence was telling, screening a weak back four featuring Li Peng – signed from 3rd division Qingdao Jonoon and probably one of the weakest defenders ever seen in Shenhua colours.

SIPG had the majority of possession, but both teams created relatively few chances in game in which the most controversial incident saw SIPG’s Oscar booked for diving in the Shenhua penalty box. Japanese referee Jumpei Iida came in for a lot of stick from the red corner of Shanghai, but the decision was debatable. Watch for yourself along with highlights from the rest of the game below.

Pressure now on SIPG

At the start of the season, incoming SIPG head coach Andre Villas-Boas promised club chairman Sui Guoyang silverware this year. Not so long ago, SIPG were in a very strong position to deliver at least a CSL, ACL or CFA cup title if not two or even all three. Now, almost unbelievably, they are staring total failure to win even one in the face – and the pressure is on. This is made worse by the fact that Shenhua didn’t concede an away goal – the first time the blue corner have kept a clean sheet against their rivals since they were bought over by SIPG at the end of 2014.

The red corner of Shanghai have developed a reputation for bottling it at key moments – the team spurned several good chances to go top of the CSL during a title race which was much closer than the eventual six point margin between Evergrande and SIPG suggested. Also The Xujiahui team’s performance in the ACL cup semi against Urawa Reds, their biggest game of the season, was a real disappointment as the undoubted attacking flair which SIPG posses failed to deliver when it really mattered.

That said, it can’t be ignored that in the quarter final, SIPG lost the first leg 3-0 away to Tianjin Quanjian but stormed back to win the home fixture 4-0 to complete an impressive comeback. SIPG’s ability to score, and the fact they are playing at home are key points in the red side still having a great chance to win their first ever piece of major silverware.

Gio Moreno – so often a thorn in SIPG’s side

Shenhua have already won a moral victory

The men in blue come into the second leg of this final in much stronger position than the first leg. Some said Shenhua had nothing to lose coming into the first game, such was the expectation of defeat. But Shenhua would still have to suffer the psychological blow of having their crown as being THE team in Shanghai so comprehensively removed by losing it to their city rivals in a national cup final. Especially if they had been beaten soundly as in previous derbies this year. “Only Shenhua rep Shanghai” would have been a lot more difficult for anyone other than Shenhua fans to take seriously had that been the case. But instead, everything which is good about Shenhua – the single-minded zeal of the support, the smouldering football cauldron of Hongkou stadium, and a team and Shanghainese institution which is at its most dangerous when cornered – rose to the fore to deliver a win.

Even if they ultimately don’t prevail over SIPG, Shenhua did enough, after a long and horrific season, to show that they were able to muster enough strength to win some serious face back. That is what matters most in these parts. Should Shenhua fail to win, nothing will be lost provided there is no repeat of the 5-0s and 6-1s of the past few appearances at Shanghai Stadium and it’s difficult as things stand to see the Hongkou side going down by a big margin this time.

Getting tickets

Very very tough. Right now, a mere 72 hours before kickoff, only SIPG season ticket holders have been able to buy tickets and those only went on sale today. No further tickets are on sale yet, believe it or not. It is unclear if briefs will go on general sale or not. SIPG are cutting it fine, but Shenhua fans allege this is a deliberate ploy to make it harder for away fans to get tickets. Officially Shenhua fans are only getting 600 briefs for this game – the same criminally small number SIPG get at Hongkou due to the two clubs bickering over away allocations over the past two seasons.

Shanghai Stadium – home of Shanghai SIPG

If you live in Shanghai or are familiar with this city, you may know that the venue for the final is locally refered to as Bawan or “The 80,000” in reference to the stadiums capacity. But, that’s not actually how many people it holds. It only holds around 60,000 spectators, and to make matters worse, Shanghai police insist that 12% of all available seating is kept empty for safety reasons. That means, 12% of all seats available after areas kept empty to create a buffer between home and away fans are accounted for. So basically all this does is turn an 80,000 capacity stadium into a 46,000 capacity one for the derby.

It’s hard to understand why its necessary to artificially limit the crowd this much – how big a difference is there between 46,000 and 60,000 people in this context? That is something beyond the ken of this correspondent. It does however illustrate the unusual and challenging environment football fans in China face when trying to enjoy their local game. Especially when you consider that the stadium is fully opened up when the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid come to town to play friendlies. In other words, it’s easier for local people to watch an AC Milan game in Shanghai than it is for a Shanghai Derby.

With no public channels open for ticket sales right now, we can only say that there are tickets available on the street around the stadium with prices starting at 800rmb. But the sellers explicitly told WEF’s contact that these were “not for Shenhua fans” which is unusual as the kind of people who are ticket touts in China usually don’t care about this whatsoever. Expect more tickets to appear on the street, but prices not to be much less than, at a guess, 500rmb.

Watching the game elsewhere

You may wish to take in the game near the stadium to catch some of the atmosphere outside afterwards. It remains to be seen how local police will handle security in and around the stadium afterwards, but the notoriously paranoid and fearful local authorities must surely be dreading the prospect of  having so many fans of both teams in the wide open surroundings of Shanghai Stadium after such a big match between them. It will be interesting to see what unfolds regardless of the final result.

Xujiahui, the part of town where SIPGs stadium is located, is mainly residential and shopping quarter situated in the south-western side of downtown Shanghai. There are six metro stations and six metro lines passing through the neighbourhood making the stadium the easiest to get to in Shanghai. But tor some reason it is not an area well blessed with bars. Your correspondent knows an Irish resident of this area who said apart from Harleys on Nandan Lu, there was barely any drinking hole with a TV which could be expected to be showing the game. An Irishman’s word on bars in his area should be good enough although if anyone reading these knows different please let us know in the comments section.

In other parts of town, the Sunday night 8pm kickoff may clash with EPL fixtures, so don’t expect any ex-pat orientated bars to put on Chinese footy instead, but you may get lucky somewhere. Miros on Fuahuazhen Lu has been known to host Shenhua fans, as does Elevens on Changping Lu next to Jingan Worker’s stadium.

Team news

As always, information about who is available for particular games is thin on the ground. There’s been little out of either camp, Moreno and Liu Ruofan picked up knocks in the first tie but no further news seems to be good news as far as Shenhua fans are concerned. SIPG have Lv Wenjun back from suspension, other than that, both squads look to be at or near full-strength.

Weather forecast

Shanghai meteorological bureau predicts dry conditions, and patchy cloud with lows of 9c and highs of 17c. Again it’s a night game so it will be on the lower end but that will still make it a bit milder than the game last week and it certainly wont be cold enough to dampen the mood on the pitch or celebrations afterwards for either side’s fans.

The Shanghainese factor – 2nd leg

Last week we highlighted the role local players would play in a local derby – as one of course would expect. This week though the temperature of this game has been turned up now there is a lot more at stake with Shenhua having a good chance of taking this fixture. The volume of fan banter has gone up as well – this is now seen as a do or die game with SIPG desperate to crown themselves undisputed number 1 in Shanghai and Shenhua eager to humiliate SIPG by denying them any silverware after such a promising season.

Much the beef is focused on SIPGs alleged manoeuvring to prevent Shenhua fans getting into the home end by releasing tickets late, SIPG saying Shenhua fans care more about Japanese football than Shanghai football, “6-1” jibes, Shenhua claiming that most of SIPGs fans are just employees paid to be at the match by their parent company, and that SIPGs fans are all from outside Shanghai.

No comment or judgement is being passed in this piece about these claims so its best to just leave it here by taking a look at the some of the memes floating about online:

 

What to expect

Hulk needs to make himself incredible again

Another big match big derby atmosphere at the cavernous but bustling Shanghai Stadium. SIPG will be well motivated and have come back from bigger deficits than 1-0 in the cup already this season. This will be a more attacking and flowing game than the 1st leg – SIPG must score and will want not leave gaps at the back. But equally, Shenhua realistically need to score too if they are to have a chance to win the cup as its pretty much unthinkable such a wafer thin defence, featuring the likes of amateur-level players such as Tao Jin or Li Peng could keep a clean sheet against SIPG twice in a row. Should the away side grab a goal, expect all hell to break loose and the game to explode into a high-octane thriller.

SIPG will need to avoid Hulk, who tussled comically all match with 165cm high Shenhua left-back Bai Jiajun in the 1st leg, putting in such a sub-par shift again. Elkesson must have been sitting in the stands wondering why he wasn’t picked – will AVB drop Amedov, or perhaps even Oscar, to make way for the former Evergrande striker to add another prong to SIPGs attack? They have to score.

Above all though – Shenhua’s unexpected first leg win there will be no shortage of drama. And come what may at the end of the match, Shanghai will have its first Chinese football silverware since 1998 – and could be the first sign of a power-shift in Chinese football back to the central east coast.

Prediction

A tense game will see a very cautious opening period, but Shenhua to defy the odds and win the cup on away goals despite a 2-1 victory for SIPG.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…

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