The Blue Devils and Red Eagles Race for Third

CSLShanghai SIPG find themselves level on points with Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League (CSL) following Sunday’s win at Hangzhou Greentown.

The top-three sides in the CSL and CFA Cup winners qualify for the following season’s Asian Champions League (ACL) which will naturally help recruit players…if the hugely inflated salaries weren’t enough already.

Both sides have just five games of the season remaining and on the face of it, SIPG have a more challenging run in.

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But whilst SIPG have ‘stronger’ opponents, three of their games come a day before Shenhua’s giving Sven Goran-Eriksson’s team the chance to crank up the pressure on their city rivals. Shenhua, however, will be pleased that two of those three are against the league’s top two sides.

The Blue Devils’ shaky away form (8th in the division) should improve with Gregorio Manzano’s side travelling to three of the CSL’s bottom six clubs. They will host their toughest opponents (Henan and Beijing) at the Hongkou Stadium where they’re currently unbeaten in the league.

SIPG’s home form on the other hand isn’t quite so impressive. It’s also unlikely to get much better as they still have leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei Fortune and Shandong Luneng – who like SIPG, recently lost their ACL quarter-final tie against South Korean opposition – to visit.

Shenhua need Cao Yunding (4 goals, 8 assists), Giovanni Moreno (7 goals, 3 assists) and Obafemi Martins (8 goals, 3 assists) to hit form in the close season. The trio, minus the injured Ba’s 14 strikes, have scored 70.4% of Shenhua’s league goals this season.

As a team, Shenhua have scored 29.3% (12 of 41) of their goals in the last 15 minutes which suggests their fitness and concentration levels are better than most of their opponents.

sipgSIPG, meanwhile, have rarely scored between the 15th and 30th minute of games but they do tend to have more joy in the second half, peaking from the hour mark until the 75th minute. They’ll hope Asian record signing, Hulk, can carry his side to a strong finish which given his name and appearance, should be more than possible.

The rivalry between these two sides means local pride is of greater value than ACL qualification. That theory gained credence after last night’s results mean the CFA Cup final is between Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Suning, which will likely see the team that finishes fourth also qualify.

Shenhua supporters view SIPG as the new, unwanted kids on the block. SIPG fans see their club as a fresh start, post the match-fixing era that has tainted Chinese football. Though referees and players are no longer being bribed, Shenhua’s following would suggest that has now transferred to the support of their counterparts with claims that the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) pay their employees to attend matches and help fill the 56,000 capacity Shanghai Stadium. SIPG’s lavish spending on foreigners in terms of transfer fees and/or wages has also left their fans suffering from the ‘plastic’ label.

shenhuaLast night, Manzano showed where his priorities lie during the CFA Cup semi-final against Jiangsu Suning. The Spanish manager opted for a makeshift team that saw all of his foreign players and some of his stronger Chinese personnel rested for the second-leg despite the fact his side were very much in the tie following a first-leg 3-2 defeat. They subsequently lost 1-0 and were eliminated 4-2 on aggregate.

It undervalues the CFA Cup much like the domestic cup competitions in England. Although, semi-finals often see a side’s strongest eleven fielded regardless of their league circumstances.

Naturally, fans are upset and frustrated by this move and that will only intensify if they fail to overcome SIPG. But if they do manage to finish third then last night’s line-up would be quickly forgotten by most.

This battle is so close that it might be even more interesting than the title race which looks likely to be won by Guangzhou Evergrande for a sixth consecutive year. Although, the penultimate game of the season away to second-placed Jiangsu Suning could make things a little tenser when the campaign comes to an end on the 5th November.

Shenhua slip-up in the rain

CSLShanghai Shenhua 2-2 Chongqing Lifan
Friday 16th September 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua gave up a two-goal lead and two-points as they maintained their unbeaten home form on a wet Friday night.

Many fans braved the typhoon to support third placed, Shanghai Shenhua as they took on Chongqing Lifan – who sit ninth in the Chinese Super League (CSL).

A win for the home side would have seen Gregorio Manzano’s men pull clear of local rivals Shanghai SIPG in the race for top three and qualification for next season’s Asian Champions League – a tournament SIPG were eliminated from following their recent 5-0 defeat to South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the quarter-finals.

After an opening of few opportunities, Lifan nearly took the lead when Brazilian forward, Alan Kardec, reacted quickest to a loose ball in Shenhua’s penalty area. Unfortunately for the away side, he could only hit the side netting having been forced too wide after rounding goalkeeper Li Shuai.

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Hongkou has been good to Shenhua this season, but it’s also been better than tonight.

With a quarter of the game gone, Moreno broke the deadlock to send the loyal supporters delirious. The Colombian’s strike from over 20-yards dipped and made use of the wet surface to deceive Deng Xiaofei in the Lifan goal.

Less than five minutes later, Fernandinho had a glorious chance to equalise after breaking the offside trap. The Brazilian winger lacked composure as he dragged his effort wide with just the keeper to beat.

After half an hour’s play, Lifan were made to pay for that miss when Cao Yunding doubled the home side’s advantage. The goal was created by Obafemi Martins’ brilliant disguised drag pass to put his Chinese teammate through for a first-time finish.

It could easily have been three when Moreno’s clever flick played Cao Yunding into the channel before cutting the ball back for Martins. The former Newcastle striker couldn’t keep his shot down as it sailed over the bar.

Despite Shenhua’s dominance after scoring their second, Lifan nearly got a goal back before half-time. Fernandinho tried to atone for his earlier miss but his clipped free-kick was tipped wide by Li Shuai.

Just eight-minutes after the break, Lifan did reduce the deficit when Wang Dong was on hand to tap-in from six-yards. The Shenhua defence was stretched and Chongqing were very much back in the game.

Both sides squandered opportunities on the counter-attack as the match became more open.

Shenhua’s Sheng Qin talked his way into the referee’s book and could easily have received a second yellow for simply not shutting up. It was a display of ill-discipline that is all too frequent in the CSL.

With just over ten minutes remaining, Fernandinho drew the sides level when he side-footed Kardec’s cross into the far corner.

Both of Lifan’s goal scorers had chances to complete the comeback. First, captain Wang Dong over hit his attempted lob when found in a great position while Fernandinho tested Li Shuai from the angle.

The referee blew for full-time and Shenhua should be disappointed by the lack of attempts created (nine) despite having more of the possession (55%). Failing to close out a game like this could be their undoing this season.

Credit to Lifan and their manager Chang Woe-Ryong who really made use of his half-time team talk. The Chongqing side doubled their first-half attempts at goal from five to ten while dominating the aerial duels and looking dangerous on the break, particularly down the right-flank.

manzanoManzano and Shenhua will be hoping they won’t be made to regret dropping these two-points. SIPG make the short trip to Hangzhou on Sunday knowing a win will see Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side return to third. This race, unlike the typhoon, has a long way to go yet.

Shuttlecock and Balls

Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Liaoning Shenyang Hongyun
Saturday 20th August 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua maintained their unbeaten home league form and chase for Asian Champions League qualification with another win at the Hongkou Stadium.

There were few chances of note until Shenhua’s Cao Yunding curled just wide of the far-post in the 25th minute.

Michael Thwaite

Thwart during his days representing Australia.

But three minutes later, Liaoning – who started the weekend in 11th place – took a surprise lead when Michael Thwaite capitalised on some poor marking to head into the far corner.

Just after half an hour, Liaoning could have been two to the good. Sun Shilin should have doubled his side’s advantage but was thwarted by Li Shuai’s smothering save.

Fredy Guarin tried to cancel out Thwaite’s opener with an acrobatic volley following a near-post flick on but the Colombian’s effort sailed high and wide.

However, the home side did find an equaliser in the 43rd minute when captain Giovanni Moreno beat Shi Xiaotian at his near post from outside the area. The Liaoning keeper’s positioning was poor but the Hongkou faithful didn’t care.

Half-time arrived with the scores level at one apiece.

China’s Lin Dan was drawing one set all with Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen during the tightly contested bronze decider at the Rio Olympics.

That’s right, at half-time, Shanghai TV decided to suspend broadcasting of the football in preference of the badminton’s medal matches. It wouldn’t be too difficult to accept given the sport’s popularity had the same coverage not been on CCTV 5, a channel that can be accessed by all Chinese viewers. If, like me, you don’t really care about the badminton results, skip the next two paragraphs.

Lin Dan

Lin Dan was unable to repeat his success from Beijing and London at the Rio Olympics, not that I was interested.

The men’s singles match ended with Axelsen defeating Lin Dan – holder of the last two Olympic titles – to claim bronze with a 21-17 final set victory. I, meanwhile, sat baffled by the situation with Stoke City v Man City on my tablet.

Chinese pride was restored when Chen Long beat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in straight sets, 21-18, 21-18. His success made it four men’s singles gold medals from the last five Olympics for China.

During the final, viewers were treated to an interruption that revealed Obafemi Martins had continued his rich vein of form to give Shenhua the lead. The Nigerian forward made it five from his last five league appearances with a close-range header. The 80th minute goal, which turned out to be the winner – an assumption made on the basis that there were no further disruptions during the badminton – was largely due to Cao Yunding’s dangerous cross into the box.

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Manzano is making the Hongkou Stadium quite the fortress.

This victory saw Gregorio Manzano’s side consolidate their place in the CSL’s top three as one of their closest rivals, Hebei lost to Henan over the weekend.

Next up for Shanghai Shenhua is a difficult trip to 6th placed Guangzhou R&F on Sunday 11th September.

You’d hope a country and government trying to promote football would ensure that there’d be no racquet-based interludes for the remaining seven rounds of league matches.

CSL Results:
Shanghai SIPG 4-1 Shijiazhuang Ever Bright
Guangzhou Evergrande 0-0 Hangzhou Greentown
Tianjin Teda 1-4 Shandong Luneng
Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Liaoning Shenyang
Jiangsu Suning 2-1 Beijing Guoan
Henan Jianye 1-0 Hebei China Fortune
Chongqing Lifan 4-5 Guangzhou R&F
Changchun Yutai 1-0 Yanbian Fude 

Hongkou Happiness for Martins and co.

1026162482Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Guangzhou Evergrande
Saturday 13th August 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua gave their AFC Champions League qualification hopes a huge boost after climbing to third in the CSL following yet another win against one of their rivals.

A brace from Obafemi Martins was enough to claim all three-points at the Hongkou Stadium where the hosts remain unbeaten all season.

In sweltering conditions, Shenhua made the brighter start with Cao Yunding breaking away down the left. The pacey winger opted to shoot instead of using the numerical advantage his teammates had created on the overlap down the right.

But just two minutes later, the home side took the lead. Zheng Zhi lost possession cheaply in his defensive third, which allowed Giovanni Moreno to pounce. The club captain found Martins on the edge of the area and the Nigerian’s quick feet created the space before slotting into the far corner.

Five minutes later, Moreno dispossessed his opponent on the hallway line and tried to play Martins in again. The Colombian took to long to release the ball, which allowed the gaps in Guangzhou’s defence to close.

In reply, Guangzhou created an opportunity for Paulinho to head towards goal from ten-yards. The Brazilian’s effort was weak, as he failed to generate any power from a looping cross that lacked pace.

The away side did find an equaliser when Lin Gao scored from an unlikely angle. A combination of poor defending by Tao Jin and even worse goalkeeping by Li Shuai resulted in the league leaders drawing level.

Li Shuai made up for his error when he denied Paulinho’s first time shot with a good save. At this point, Guangzhou Evergrande was beginning to gain a foothold in the game.

Alan – who scored the winner when these two sides met in April – broke Shenhua’s offside trap but could only find the side netting from the right channel.

A quarter of the way through, Cao Yunding wasted another good opportunity as he delayed his shot long enough for it to be blocked out for a corner.

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Moreno and Martins embrace at the final whistle.

Shenhua were starting to look most threatening on the counterattack and Martins nearly doubled his tally when he was allowed to carry the ball for over 40-yards. The former Newcastle forward dragged his shot wide as the defensive pressure increased.

With only a few minutes of the half remaining, Martins and Shenhua got their second of the game.

Following a throw-in, Martins reacted quickest to the loose ball and took one touch into the right corner of the area before letting fly with an early strike. His well-struck shot seemed to catch Zeng Cheng in the Guangzhou goal slightly flat-footed as the ball nestled into the bottom corner.

It was a great finish celebrated in his usual acrobatic style that wouldn’t look too out of place at the Olympics.

Shanghai Shenhua took their lead into the break with the supporters creating plenty of noise.

The second half was a far cagier affair with fewer opportunities for either side. But just after the hour mark, Ricardo Goulart’s glancing header struck the crossbar as the reigning Champions went in search of an equaliser.

Martinez

Martinez missed a great chance to equalise late on.

Little else happened until the final couple of minutes. Jackson Martinez – a 70th minute substitute – was presented with his side’s best chance of the match. The £35.2m signing from Atletico Madrid hit the post from six-yards when it appeared easier to score. Paulinho then had his follow-up blocked before the ball was cleared away from danger.

It was a big let-off for Shenhua who despite being the better side, nearly surrendered their victory in the final moments.

Fortunately for Gregorio Manzano’s side, they held on to complete consecutive home wins against Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu and SIPG. The top three teams prior to kick-off.

For Luiz Felipe Scolari and his team, their 11-point lead can be reduced to eight if Jiangsu Suning defeat bottom-side Changchun Yatai away on Sunday.

The Blue Devils will be keeping a close eye on Jiangsu’s game, as they’ll be facing them on Wednesday evening in the CFA Cup semifinal.

Wu Lei’s late penalty earns point in thriller

CSLGuangzhou R&F 3 v 3 Shanghai SIPG
Sunday 31st July 2016
Yuexiushan Stadium

Only five-points separated the two sides heading into this encounter, the second CSL match to be shown live on Sky.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side travelled south to Guangzhou in the hope of returning to the top three. SIPG dropped to fourth after Shanghai Shenhua’s great win against Jiangsu Suning last night.

Standing in their way were Guangzhou R&F who had won their last five matches at home. They also had recent recruit, Eran Zahavi, providing a serious goal threat. The Israeli international has scored four goals in five matches, with three of those appearances coming from the bench.

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Hulk is still recovering from an injury sustained during his debut.

SIPG were without the injured duo of Dario Conca and Asian transfer record, Hulk, while Asamoah Gyan has been demoted to the reserves due to the foreign player quota rules. That’s like paying Brad Pitt full salary to be an understudy in a movie.

The game itself took a little while to get going. The first opening came from Dragan Stojković’s side following some good play between Renatinho and Zahavi, which saw the latter shoot wide of the near-post.

Despite the slow start, Brazilian Renatinho broke the deadlock with a fine finish in the 17th minute. The midfielder received a great knockdown by Xiao Zhi, before hitting his half volley into the top corner from the edge of the area.

Suddenly, Shanghai SIPG was sparked into life and was level within a few minutes. China’s current football idol, Wu Lei, tapped home following a dangerous cross by Jean Kouassi from the left-hand side.

Wu Lei has been in fine form with five goals from his last five games prior to kick-off.

Guangzhou’s threat was from either Renatinho or Zahavi, while Kouassi and Wu Lei always looked to exploit the home side’s high line.

Despite a couple of long-range attempts and snap shots, the scores remained level heading into half-time.

But less than five minutes into the second half, Wu Lei broke the offside trap and rounded the onrushing keeper. The Chinese winger’s rolled attempt from a difficult angle nutmegged one defender and appeared to lack the necessary pace to reach the goal before a clearance could be made. But Yu Yang’s sliding attempt found the roof of his own net to give SIPG the lead.

Renatinho then had a mini-duel with Junling Yan, as he forced the SIPG goalkeeper into making a couple of good saves in the space of a minute.

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Zahavi looks to be a good signing.

Zahavi was then inches away from equalising with a curling effort in the 74th minute.

However, four minutes later, Guangzhou did find their equaliser thanks to Wang Song. The experienced midfielder drilled the loose ball into the bottom corner following a poor headed clearance.

Suddenly, Guangzhou had their tails up and Jiang Zhipeng earned his side a penalty within two minutes of Song’s equaliser.

Zahavi stepped up and confidently sent Junling Yan the wrong way and sent the locals delirious. In the space of two minutes, Guangzhou R&F had turned the game on its head and SIPG were heading back to Shanghai empty handed.

In the closing stages, Wu Lei did attempt an overhead kick, which went narrowly over the bar. But just a minute later, he was given the chance to complete his hat-trick when his side were awarded a 90th minute penalty.

Ivorian Kouassi was fouled and Wu Lei showed great composure despite the supporters’ best efforts as he shot high into the left corner.

This result coupled with Hebei China Fortune’s draw away to Shijiazhuang Ever Bright means SIPG, Shenhua and Hebei all sit third, fourth and fifth respectively on 34-points. The race for an Asian Champions League place could be more exciting than that of the title with Guangzhou Evergrande 10 ahead of Jiangsu with a game in hand.

Wu LeiMan of the match: Wu Lei

It’s hard to ignore someone who scores all three of his side’s goals. The Xu Genbao Academy graduate and speedy winger showed intelligent movement as well as the necessary calmness in front of goal when the opportunities arrived.

Shenhua take provincial honours

1026162482Shanghai Shenhua 3-2 Jiangsu Suning
Saturday 30th July 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Known as the Yangtze Delta Derby, Shanghai Shenhua took on Jiangsu Suning in the first Chinese Super League match televised live on Sky Sports.

There was an added motive besides provincial pride with both teams looking to at least end the season in the top three and cement a place in next year’s Asian Champions League.

Sitting fifth prior to kick-off and two-points off third, Gregorio Manzano’s side were quick out of the blocks as they looked to extend their season-long unbeaten run at home to 13 in all competitions (W9, D3).

After just five minutes, Shenhua captain, Giovanni Moreno had an acrobatic scissor-kick from a corner sensationally saved by Gu Chao in the Jiangsu goal.

Just two minutes later, Obafemi Martins raced clear down the right but saw his low-effort saved once again by Gu Chao.

Shenhua’s Cao Yunding was causing all kinds of problems – as he often has throughout this campaign – and the diminutive winger nearly broke the deadlock after cutting in from the left and shooting just over.

Jiangsu had to withstand a great deal of pressure but they nearly took the lead following a counter-attack from yet another Shenhua corner.

But Shenhua nearly responded instantly when Moreno slipped Cao Yunding in down the left with a clever flicked pass. The Chinese player’s early ball across the box was too close to Gu Chao despite Martins’ best efforts.

Roger Martinez

Martinez (right) at former club Racing Club.

After a whirlwind opening, Jiangsu scored against the run of play in the 21st minute. Recent Colombian acquisition, Roger Martinez, saw his near-post diving header somehow loop into the far corner. It was a fortuitous and undeserved goal for the second-placed side.

Just seven-minutes later, however, a clumsy challenge on Martins saw the linesman flag for a penalty while the referee appeared unmoved by the incident. After consultation, the spot-kick was awarded despite protests from several Jiangsu players. Fredy Guarin stepped up and emphatically converted from 12-yards.

The game calmed down for a moment until a few minutes before half-time. Former Asian transfer record holder and Liverpool target, Alex Teixiera, showed his class to help his side restore their lead. A deft and disguised through ball caught Shenhua’s defence flat-footed, allowing Martinez to claim his and Jiangsu’s second of the game.

It was a blow for Shenhua given the timing of the goal and the fact Jiangsu’s hadn’t warranted their advantage going into the break. Their misery was further compounded when they lost first choice keeper, Li Shuai, to injury before the start of the second half.

His replacement, Geng Xiaofeng, was called into action immediately when he had to react well to Martinez’s near-post flick. The 22-year-old forward has made an immediate impact with five goals in just three games.

Before the hour mark, Cao Yunding, came close to scoring with another effort from range. After skipping past two defenders, the 26-year-old and Xu Genbao Academy graduate, shot inches away from the top corner.

Not to be discouraged, Cao Yunding had the ball at his feet once again. He ran at Jiangsu’s back peddling defence before slipping a well-weighted pass for Martins to finish first time. It was a thoroughly deserved equaliser for the home side in front of their ever-singing supporters.

Jiangsu Suning were rattled and just after an hour’s play, Martins should have given his side the lead. Right-winger, Lu Zheng, found the former Newcastle forward less than ten-yards from goal but he lifted his half-volley high over the bar.

Five minutes later, Moreno nearly scored with an audacious and improvised rabona that went just wide of Gu Chao’s peppered goal. The tall Colombian playmaker is popular amongst the locals who enjoy such moments of creativity.

During an intense phase of attacking football from Shenhua, Guarin broke down the right channel. He squared the ball for Martins who was denied a tap-in by Trent Sainsbury’s last-ditch tackle. It was a fantastic piece of defending by the Australian international but he would suffer just ten minutes later.

Fredy Guarin

Guarin helped his side with two goals.

Cao Yunding provided the lay-off for Guarin’s well-struck effort from distance. Unfortunately for Jiangsu, it deflected off Sainsbury and past Gu Chao to give Shanghai Shenhua the lead in the 79th minute.

Jiangsu pressed for an equaliser, which left more opportunities for Shenhua’s counter-attack. But they couldn’t find the equaliser as Shenhua claimed the victory that sees them climb to third in the table ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.

As they acknowledged all ends of the ground after the final whistle, the Shenhua players wore t-shirts dedicated to Demba Ba – who suffered a broken leg during the Shanghai derby two weeks ago.


Man of the match:
Cao Yunding

A menace down Jiangsu’s right throughout, the right-footed pacey winger – who plays down the left – provided two assists and was a key outlet for the home side. For those who appreciate a nostalgic reference, he’s like a Chinese version of former Southampton player, Fabrice Fernandes.

Dramatic turnaround overshadowed by Ba’s horrific injury

Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 Shanghai SIPG
Sunday 17th July 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Highlights of this weekend’s goals (skip to 3:40 for the Shanghai derby goals)

Two goals in the last ten minutes of play, including an injury-time penalty, saw Shanghai Shenhua defeat local rivals Shanghai SIPG. But the broken leg Demba Ba suffered in the second half soured the taste of victory.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s SIPG were without playmaker Dario Conca and recent Asian record signing, Hulk, who got injured after scoring on his debut. Shenhua meanwhile, came into the game in fifth place and five points behind SIPG who sat in third, two-points off Jiangsu Suning.

Shenhua pitch

Shenhua’s pitch looked in desperate need of some TLC

The first half saw few opportunities as Shenhua had the majority of the possession but failed to breakthrough a defensive minded SIPG. The quality of the pitch didn’t help the spectacle with patches replaced and the surface regularly cutting up during a humid summer’s evening in Shanghai.

But just ten minutes after half-time, SIPG scored first thanks to Chinese star Wu Lei’s long-range effort. It was against the run of play but it was certainly a welcome event given how the first 45 minutes went.

Less than a quarter of an hour later, however, disaster struck for both Shenhua and Ba. It was an innocuous coming together, which saw the former Chelsea and Newcastle striker suffer a severely broken leg. His studs may have got caught in the poor turf, but what is clear is that he will be out of action for a similar period to Man Utd’s Luke Shaw – who is just returning to action after a ten-month lay-off.

Ba splint

Ba with a splint of sorts following his leg break

Fortunately, Ba appeared to receive better and more professional treatment than Ulan Konysbayev of Kazakhstan who broke his ankle against China during a friendly match early last month.

Shenhua managed to keep their heads despite the psychological blow of seeing a teammate suffer such an awful injury. Obafemi Martins – Ba’s replacement – injected a bit more speed into the side and their constant pressure on the SIPG goal paid off when the often impressive Cao Yunding equalised in the 87th minute with an emphatic drive from just beyond the penalty spot.

Then in the fifth of ten minutes added on for Ba’s treatment, Fredy Guarin converted from 12-yards to send the home fans delirious.

The penalty was awarded following an amateur version of a professional foul by Wang Jiajie who eventually brought down Shenhua captain, Giovanni Moreno, despite having a hold of his shirt for an eternity. The decision to complete the foul inside the area instead of outside was questionable at best, while the referee had no choice but to send him off. That is despite the recent introduction of new FIFA rules, which encourage referees to avoid the triple punishment (penalty award, red card and subsequent suspension) when a player doesn’t appear to commit the foul deliberately. Not the case here, however.

There was still time for Bai Jiajun to receive an unnecessary second yellow for time wasting while Moreno was lucky the referee failed to see his blatant kick out at Cai Huikang in the dying moments. Shanghai Shenhua’s captain leading by example.

Gregorio Manzano’s side now sits just two points off SIPG and Hebei who sit third and fourth respectively. Meanwhile, reigning champions, Guangzhou Evergrande, find themselves 13-points ahead of second-placed Jiangsu with 12 games remaining.

 

Demba Ba fall out:

Manzano originally claimed it could be a career ending injury for the 31-year old, which obviously did little to calm the concerns of Shenhua’s followers.

The league’s top scorer is reportedly being flown to France for the operation, which appears to be a wise move based on personal experience and general observations out here in Shanghai.

Shenhua hospital

Shenhua fans wait outside the hospital Ba was taken to on Sunday night

Shenhua supporters were out in force last night at the hospital where Ba was originally admitted. They awaited any updates from doctors regarding the situation of their footballing hero but the skeptics amongst us would wonder if they’d make the same efforts for a Chinese player or even their grandmother.

The irrational and tribal nature of a football supporter really is in full flow at the moment. Chinese football fans are an enthusiastic bunch but that coupled with the newly developing football culture means they have a tendency to go a step or two too far.

Sun Xiang restaurant pic

A dish for funerals

Many deluded Shenhua fans have accused Sun Xiang – captain of SIPG and the player who collided with Ba when he broke his leg – of intentionally committing the offence. In addition to demanding that he apologise – he has visited Ba in hospital – Shenhua fans have flocked to the restaurant he owns and initiated a sit in where they only ordered water and a particular dish associated with funerals.

Police were called to question those at the restaurant as social media reported the childish antics of grown adults who presumably had work to attend on Monday.

Police Shenhua

Police arrive at Sun Xiang’s restaurant to try and evict the silent protesters

Shanghai Shenhua have pissed petrol on the fire by releasing a statement that requests the CFA look further into several incidents during the match which involved Sun Xiang and Cai Huikang of SIPG.

Their claims seem impulsive, unreasonable and plain foolish, particularly when one of the incidents includes the moment Moreno kicked out at Huikang. To say the football world has gone potty out here is an understatement. Unfortunately, this only adds credence to the idea that China can’t reach its ultimate goals in football if this is the culture within which it operates.

Gülüm’s glum night sees Shenhua run out comfortable winners

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Shenhua’s Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua 2-0 Hebei China Fortune
Sunday 24th April 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Shanghai Shenhua defeated Li Tie’s Hebei China Fortune thanks to two-goals in the opening ten-minutes.

Li Tie, remembered by Premier League followers as the former Everton and Sheffield United midfielder, started three of his foreign January signings. Ezequiel Lavezzi, signed from PSG, was playing alongside former Arsenal winger, Gervinho, in a front three, supported by Stephane M’Bia, formerly of QPR and more recently, Sevilla.

Gregorio Manzano’s Shenhua meanwhile stuck with their 4-2-3-1 formation which has served them relatively well so far this season. Demba Ba led the line with captain, Giovanni Moreno, in the free role behind.

There was obvious interest in how Hebei’s foreign players would perform, particularly Gervinho and Lavezzi who arrived for big fees and/or wages. The home supporters did their best to put them off whenever they were in possession, cheering when something they tried failed to come off.

Gulum

The former Besiktas defender had a night to forget.

But it was the blistering start by the Blue Devils that caught everyone off guard, including their fans.

After seven minutes, Lu Zheng – who seems to get a hard time from the locals – dribbled down the right wing before cutting inside onto his left-foot. His cross/shot was weak on both counts but the deflection off Ersan Gülüm sent the ball looping over Yang Cheng in the Hebei goal. Shenhua were off to a flyer and it got even better just three minutes later.

Cao Yunding intercepted a poor pass before running through on goal. But despite possessing good pace, he delayed his shot long enough for Turkish international, Gülüm to make an overzealous goal saving tackle. Under the pressure of 23,000 shouts for a penalty, the referee pointed to the spot. His lack of conviction was evident in the awarding of a yellow instead of the obvious red card. Perhaps there was an element of sympathy for Gülüm and Hebei at this point.

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Moreno finds the top-left corner.

Having witnessed a penalty in each of the previous two games I’ve attended, with Ba missing both, I was hoping for third time lucky. Ba wasn’t allowed to find out if that was the case as Moreno took responsibility. The Colombian placed his spot-kick into the top corner while sending Yang Cheng the wrong way.

Ten-minutes, two-goals and Hongkou was bouncing, Poznan style. Hebei had to come at Shenhua who were well equipped for the counter-attack with the pace of Cao Yunding and Lu Zheng on the flanks.

Gervinho cut a rather frustrated figure while Lavezzi was tenacious in his bulldozing style of running. He regularly tried to create something in the final third, but the home side were disciplined and organised at the back.

They did however, combine for their best opportunity, which saw Lavezzi thwarted by Li Jianbin with the goal at his mercy. The Argentinian forward ended up crashing into the post as he failed to adjust his feet properly. Although, replays suggest that Li Jianbin made contact with the player before the ball, further compounding Hebei’s luckless night.

Later in the half, Lavezzi had a freekick parried by Li Shuai in Shenhua’s goal, preserving his side’s two-goal cushion as half-time arrived.

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Over 23,000 supporters in attendance.

In need of a drink, I recalled that last time I had to go outside the stadium and upstairs to the upper concourse before paying £1 for a lidless cup of water (in case I lose my mind and throw it at someone in the stadium). One-pound isn’t too big a deal in England but in China, a 500ml bottle of water normally costs 20p. The perks of not having drinkable tap water.

Unfortunately, as I went to climb the stairs in search of some much-desired water, six stewards/ticket checkers wouldn’t allow me through. They said my ticket was for another area, which I was fully aware of having just spent the last hour there. But despite saying in broken Chinese that “I needed water because my big head hurts” they still refused. When I asked them where else could I go, they provided little more than a vague point. I then enquired, “What can I do?” The spokesman repeated my question, shook his head and smiled. I pointed out that given they have at least four people too many for this particular job, perhaps one of them could accompany me up the stairs to get some water and back down. Clearly I was intent on sneaking into a cheaper seat.

Suffice to say, the logical suggestion fell on deaf ears of the initiative lacking gents so my friends and I ran to a nearby bar and settled for overpriced lemonade instead. Of course, by now, the second half had already got underway.

Li Tie made two changes, which included bringing off Gervinho for Chelsea’s most troublesome signing, Gael Kakuta. The changes led to Hebei opting for a 3-4-2-1 formation as oppose to the 4-3-3 they started with. It nearly paid off just minutes into the second period.

Fredy Guarin lost possession 25-yards from his own goal as Lavezzi picked up the loose ball. The former Napoli star saw his well-struck effort tipped onto the inside of the post by Li Shuai. Dong Xuesheng, the other half-time substitute, missed the open goal as he headed the rebound onto the bar from six-yards out. Hebei weren’t going to score in a month of Sundays and the referee may as well have ended the match there and then.

Lu Zheng received a second yellow in the 83rd minute for time wasting, which seemed somewhat harsh given all he did was leave the ball for his teammate to take the throw instead.

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Players and fans wave arms in celebration.

Unsurprisingly, Hebei failed to capitalise as Shenhua’s resolute defending ensured they leapfrogged their opponents and climbed to fifth in the league after six games.

Next up for Shanghai Shenhua is a trip to league leaders and reigning CSL champions, Guangzhou Evergrande. They’ll need more lady luck on Saturday if they’re to get all three points against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s in-form side.

Demba Ba’s persistent performance seals win

A very good atmosphere on a drizzly night.

Shanghai Shenhua 3-1 Shijiazhuang Ever Bright
Sunday 3rd April 2016
Hongkou Stadium

Gregorio Manzano’s Shanghai Shenhua maintained their unbeaten start to the league with a comfortable victory over Shijiazhuang Ever Bright.

The atmosphere had been building in one of China’s better footballing stadiums (simply because there isn’t a running track) for nearly half an hour before kick-off. Megaphone carriers and tireless drummers were leading the chants, one of which was to the tune of France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise.

The Blue Devils took an early lead when Fredy Guarin’s audacious and admittedly poor freekick from range deflected kindly into the path of star striker, Demba Ba. He made no mistake from close range as he swept home with a first-time finish.

Demba Ba’s second consecutive penalty miss. At least he hit the target this time.

Shenhua were given a great opportunity to double their lead when Guan Zhen in Ever Bright’s goal brought down Ba. Having missed the target with his previous spot kick in the Shanghai derby, Ba took responsibility and missed again. Zhen appeared to be deceived by the stuttered run up as he dived early, but the forward’s soft effort was easily gathered much to the disappointment of the home fans.

To Ba’s credit however, he didn’t let the penalty miss prevent him from doubling his team’s lead when he finished off a great counter-attack.

Guarin played a defence splitting ball with the outside of his right-foot to send Cao Yunding down the left channel. The Chinese winger used his pace to reach the byline before cutting back for Ba. The Senegalese’s movement created the space as he side-footed in at the near-post to leave Zhen with little chance.

Despite the goal coming two-minutes before half time, Ba had another great opportunity to grab a first-half hat-trick. But Zhen – who was doing all he could to keep his team in the game – once again thwarted the striker.

Five minutes into the second half, Shijiazhuang got a goal back through Mao Jianqing’s finish at the far-post. The cluster of away fans didn’t stop supporting their side during the opening 45-minutes and deserved to have something to shout about.

But the home fans’ nerves were settled when Ba finally completed hat-trick less than ten minutes later. The impressive Guarin was once again involved as he slipped a neat pass into Ba’s path when the Shijiazhuang defence was expecting a shot. Ba coolly finished to restore Shenhua’s two-goal advantage, a deficit Shijiazhuang never looked like reducing.

That was largely down to the composed and dominant performance by South Korean Ki-Hee Kim in the centre of Shenhua’s defence. While Obafemi Martins – a 74th minute substitute for Ba – nearly opened his account with a point-blank header, which was well saved by Zhen, as his defence continued to desert him.

Sitting is overrated anyway.

Shenhua’s 20-plus thousand supporters sung during the entirety of the game and the atmosphere was passionately enthusiastic throughout. Chain smokers and prohibited lidless bottles of water aside, this was a far better experience than the Shanghai derby at the Shanghai Stadium.

These eager fans with their flags, banners and chants will certainly aid the Government’s football vision to become one of the sport’s world leaders. Even if there were several women near me more concerned with selfies and social media.

My next trip to the Hongkou Stadium will be the visit of Gervinho and Ezequiel Lavezzi’s Hebei China Fortune on Sunday 24th April.

Shanghai Derby – China’s 25 years behind England

1563156256Overpriced foreign imports will only go so far. To encourage fans you have to protect them.

It’s Friday 11th March 2016 and Shanghai SIPG is taking on local rivals Shanghai Shenhua. It’s derby day and as an expat, my motivation to attend is driven by curiosity.

Of course, the Chinese Super League (CSL) has gained a great deal more interest in the wake of the winter transfer window. The CSL spent more on players than the Premier League (England) and more than the Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), La Liga (Spain) and Ligue 1 (France) combined. An influx of big foreign names for even bigger fees has raised awareness around the world, but I wanted to see how the atmosphere and build up to a derby game compared to England.

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