With Shanghai SIPG only able to salvage a single point away to Hebei China Fortune on Thursday, Shandong Luneng could move within 4 points of second place by beating Shanghai Shenhua at home today. The first encounter between the two sides in the CSL has been postponed to mid-September, following the fire that ravaged Hongkou Stadium in March, but the hosts were still out for revenge, after being eliminated from the FA Cup by the evenings opponents.
With Shenhua in the semi-final of the cup, but in no-man’s land in the CSL, and without Obafemi Martins (as well as Carlos Tévez, who looks less likely to ever play a match in China again every week) it came as no surprise that Luneng started out with a lot more intensity in their hunt for a spot in next year’s AFC Champions League. Shenhua were left with little time on the ball as Luneng saw to win it early and get the ball in to Graziano Pellè and Papiss Cissé in the box. One can’t help but think that the side would be better off settling for one of the two strikers and bringing in a creative midfielder as one of their allowed foreign players next year, as they often look far too similar in terms of style and it was the third foreigner, the Brazilian center back Gil, who broke the deadlock when he headed home from a corner in the 22nd minute. Wind in sails, Luneng were resolute in their efforts to secure all three points early on, while Shenhua were uninspired and unfocused. 2-0 was more than well-deserved as Liu Binbin found Cissé who (perhaps offside) fired distinctively into the roof of the net after 33 minutes. 5 minutes later, Pellè found the net with a header from another corner (should be an own goal in truth as the ball went back of the crossbar and hit goalkeeper Qiu Shengjiong in the head to go in) and the match was all but over when the teams went for tea at halftime.
Luneng picked up right where they left off and yet another corner made it 4-0 (an own goal by Xiong Fei) 9 minutes into the second half. A goal was on the card every time Luneng had the ball in their opponents’ half (which meant more or less all the time) and Shenhua surely only wanted to hear the final whistle and go somewhere else. With 30 minutes left, Luneng took their foot of the gas, whether it was because motivation faded with the match already won, or because they took pity on Shenhua, I fear we shall never know. Still, with the visitors reduced to ten men, the home side couldn’t quite contain themselves and in the dying minutes, Wu Xinghan set up Pellè for the big Italian to get his second of the evening and put the final score, 5-0, on the board.
This means Luneng is in pole position in a three-horse race with Tianjin Quanjian and Guangzhou R&F for the third AFC Champions League spot with 9 rounds to go. For Shenhua it means next to nothing other than embarrassment.