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