They came in their droves. The city’s soccer pride was at stake, and anything less than a win for Shanghai Shenhua SVA FC would have seen Dalian Shide — a team which had lost only two games all season — celebrate their eigth China Super League title at the home stadium of their old foes on Sunday afternoon.
But Dalian’s Championship champagne remains on ice after a brave performance saw Shenhua defeat the Liaoning side 2-1 for the second time this season. What a game, and what an atmosphere. Shenhua well and truly pooped Dalian’s title party in a pulsating clash which delighted the raucous home crowd of more than 25,000 spectators. Unusually for a Chinese football match, a significant number of visiting supporters were in attendance. Five hundred Dalian fans had made the long journey down from the northeast to see their boys lift the title.
But it was not to be. Shenhua midfielder Sun Xiang was reported in the Shanghai Daily as saying his side had lived up to a pre-match promise. He said: “It was a perfect match, not only because of the scoreline but also because of how we played and the fervent crowd. I had said before the match that we will not allow Shide to take the crown on our home pitch and we kept our word.”
Team-mate Xie Hui did the damage, scoring one goal seven minutes before half-time and laying on the other for his Honduran teammate Saul Martinez. The home fans had earlier been left gasping after Xie Hui’s hit the bar with a header on the 25 minute mark.
Shenhua’s defence didn’t look convincing though and Dalian equalised eight minutes after half-time, only for Xie Hui to put Shenhua back in front, somewhat against the run of play in a great counter-attacking move on 68 minutes.
The Shanghai side held onto their lead, despite a prolonged period of stoppage time, sparking off scenes of jubilation amongst the home support, which spilled out onto the streets below Hongkou Football Stadium metro station. “We are the real Champions today”, Shanghaiist’s Blue Devil contact Frank beamed as smoke and confetti blew across the sky. Amid much singing, dancing and chanting, a policeman tried to stamp out one of the Shenhua fans red flares, only to create so much smoke that no one could see what was happening. One cheeky fan grabbed the flare amid the confusion and ran off, leaving the over-zealous officer coughing and spluttering amid ironic cheers from the crowd.
With Dalian eight points in front with only three games remaining in the CSL, Shenhua’s chances of winning the league are practically zero. But if points were awarded for fan enthusiam and spirit, these guys would have had the title sewn up months ago.
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