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When Santos and Socrates toured China

The CITIC Cup and the Foshan Cup are two of the stranger items in the Santos trophy cabinet. They won them in August 1989 when they became the first major Brazilian club to tour China.

The 1980s were a lean period for Santos. They finished 2nd in the 1983 Brazilian championship but couldn’t match their international successes of the 1960s. Any team that could count Socrates as one of their players was guaranteed to draw a crowd though. After playing pre-season friendlies in Chile to raise cash in early 1989, Santos went to China in August that year.

They were not the first Brazilian team to visit China though. In the 1960s, Madureira from Rio went undefeated over five games whilst in the 1970s the most famous Brazilian of them all also played in China. Pele and fellow World Cup winner Carlos Alberto were part of the ground breaking 1977 New York Cosmos tour.

Going in the opposite direction, the Chinese national side first visited South America in 1978 and went to Brazil in 1987. There they lost to Fluminense but drew 1-1 with Botafogo.

Opening games

Santos began their 1989 tour by facing Tianjin, who were fifth in the Chinese league that season. The Brazilians won 4-1, with all the goals coming in the second half. Socrates got the first goal of the tour from the penalty spot before adding a second. Striker Juary – who scored the winner for Porto in the ‘86/87 European Cup final – also got a double.

Santos then played China B in Beijing. The reserves for the national side competed in the domestic league in those days and actually won the Chinese title that year. Key young players included Fan Zhiyi (who would go to the 2002 World Cup), future national team manager Gao Hongbo, and future Guizhou coach Li Bing. However, Santos came out on top, this time thanks to a single second half goal.

Bad tempered draw with China

Whilst China B won the domestic league, the full China side had just made it to the final round of World Cup qualifying. Confidence was high. With China’s team dominated by players from Liaoning and Guangdong, their 4-3-3 matched Santos’ formation. Appropriately for a game played in Dalian, it was Liaoning legend Ma Lin who opened the scoring. 1-0 to China.

Just about the only player in the China side that day who wasn’t first choice was goalkeeper Shi Lianzhi. With usual keeper Zhang Huikang injured, the Tianjin man faced Santos for the second time in a week. Unfortunately for him, in a bad tempered game with 6 yellow cards, Santos were awarded a late penalty. For the second time, Shi had to try and stop Socrates from the spot. He couldn’t. The Brazilian scored to earn Santos a draw.

Wulihe’s opening

A couple of days later Santos made the short trip to Shenyang to play in the inaugural game at the Wulihe Stadium. That a team like Santos played in the first game at Wulihe is fitting. The most famous night in Chinese football happened there in 2001 when China beat Oman to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

Back in 1989, Santos were up against Liaoning who were the Chinese team to beat at the time. Beat them they did. After 23 minutes, Juary scored the first ever goal at the Wulihe Stadium and Santos hung on for a 1-0 win.

The men from Sao Paolo headed south and continued their winning streak. Shanghai finished third in the national league in 1989 but they, including Fan Zhiyi, were beaten 2-0 at Hongkou. Santos had more problems against second division Hubei though. Trailing 1-0 with less than ten minutes left, the Brazilians scored two late goals to turn the game on its head and win 2-1 in Wuhan.

Super sub Wu Qunli

Santos’ last scheduled game in China was at the recently opened Tianhe Stadium (just about visible from 3.34 in this near contemporary clip). Guangdong had won the 1987 National Games but were only sixth in the Chinese top tier in 1989. Despite this, the Cantonese had six serving internationals, veteran Chi Minghua and young players such as ‘keeper Ou Chuliang (who would go to the 2002 World Cup).

Integrating the current internationals back into the Guangdong squad was difficult though. Forward Xie Yuxin made his second start against the Brazilians, but midfielder Wu Qunli and centre back Guo Yijun were left on the bench after starting for the national team. On the other hand, penalty king Mai Chao, defender Zhang Xiaowen and midfielder Wu Wenbing all started for Guangdong after missing out on the 1-1 draw in Dalian.

The game didn’t start well for the hosts as Santos took the lead through César Sampaio after 37 minutes. Guangdong reacted by bringing on Guo Yijun and Wu Qunli. They had an instant impact. Within thirty seconds Wu scored the equaliser to the delight of the 60,000 strong crowd. Three minutes later he did it again. This time scoring with a volley from inside the area. Santos were stunned and couldn’t recover as Guangdong became the first Chinese side to beat them.

Friendly in Foshan

Santos dashed over the border to the then British colony Hong Kong for another friendly before returning to China. This was not part of the original plan. The Foshan FA hastily arranged the game to show off their new team against the Brazilian giants. They got shown up instead. Foshan may have won the third tier in their inaugural season but they were no match for Santos, losing 4-0. Santos were thus crowned victors of the CITIC and Foshan Cups.

The extra game had come at a cost for Santos too. In a dispute over non-payment of appearance fees, Socrates didn’t play in Foshan or join Santos on their equally hastily arranged two game tour extension to the US. He never played for the Sao Paolo club again.

Opening the floodgates

The Santos tour sparked something of a rush of Brazilian teams visiting China. São Paulo FC, Flamengo and Grêmio would all visit by 1996. After Grêmio lost 3-2 to Beijing Guoan at Gongti in ’96, their manager was angry with the referee and famously said that China would “never qualify for a World Cup.” He was wrong. Six years later his side beat China 4-0 at the World Cup. He would also get to experience managing at Gongti again, as he won the CSL and ACL with Guangzhou Evergrande. Luiz Felipe Scolari has his own page in the history of Sino-Brazilian football, but it was Santos who helped write the opening chapter back in 1989.


Main image from this website

Donald began following Guangzhou R&F having moved to China in the same year that R&F moved to Guangzhou. The club's first foreign season ticket holder, Donald was able to watch three seasons at Yuexiushan before returning to the UK.

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