One of the tightest Championship finishes in the history of world football – that’s the situation Shanghai Shenhua find themselves in as the CSL 2009 season enters its closing stages this weekend. Not since 2005, when Gamba Osaka won the J-League by one point ahead of four other teams on the last day of the season, has football seen such a thrilling championship finish.
With just three games remaining, a mere TWO points separate the top SIX sides. Shenhua are currently in 6th place trailing the leaders by two points, but that could all change should they beat derby rivals Hangzhou tomorrow at Hongkou Stadium. Certainly, Shenhua will be desperate to make ammends against their local rivals, who wrecked Shenhua’s championship dream in the closing minutes of last year’s season.
Beijing and Henan top the table on 42 points, but both face tricky run-ins. The capital side have yet to visit eight-times Champions Dalian, and Henan have a challenging tie against Tianjin, themselves in the thick of the six-way title fight, on 41 points. Shandong Luneng, winners of two of the last three CSL titles, face a relatively easy run-in and Shanghaiist’s money is going on the Jinan side.
The final participant in this hexagonal group-of-death is Changchun, surprise 2007 CSL champions, who also face a daunting trip to Dong Bei rivals Dalian, who themselves picked an untimely point in the season for their first home defeat, when they were beaten 1-0 at home by Shenhua side recording only their second away victory of the season
Shenhua’s run-in is about as easy as they could ask for. Should they beat fourth-from bottom Hangzhou tomorrow, its downhill all the way from there as their remaining two games are both against sides staring relegation in the face – an away match against Chongqing next weekend, and what could be a nail-biting finish against Changsha at home on October 30.
Form-wise, Shenhua have had an indifferent season, but each time they looked like falling out of the championship race they produced the goods on the pitch. Despite their fate not being in their hands at this point, such is the ridiculously tight top six that anything could happen. Victory tomorrow will push Shenhua closer to an insanely exciting final day championship climax.
The match kicks off tomorrow afternoon at Hongkou Stadium at 15.30. Take line 3 or 8 to the station of the same name. Tickets are readily available from scalpers outside the stadium.