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.