Shenzhen stumble to defeat
Tim Maitland and Meryl Chow
Shenzhen Jianlibao clung on to their eight-point lead at the top of the troubled Chinese Super League, despite suffering only their second loss of the campaign. A 1-0 home defeat to Tianjin TEDA last night offered little to cheer about and even less encouragement for China coach Arie Haan, who was studying the form of six of his national squad members.
The only consolation for Shenzhen was that both Shandong Luneng and Shenyang Ginde also lost.
Tianjin's Romanian Bogden Mara settled a muted affair converting from inches out in the 12th minute and, most worryingly for China's hopes of the landslide victory over Hong Kong in nine days, Li Yi hardly looked like getting his first goal of the season, an unbelievable statistic for a player who was joint top-scorer last season.
'It's hard to believe, but when they play like this I can believe it,' said Haan, bemused by Shenzhen's throwing long diagonal balls forward for a lonely Li to forage after.
'What can he do? Even if he gets the ball he has to wait. Even Ronaldo wouldn't be able to do anything with that,' Haan said.
Li lasted 70 minutes before being substituted in a second half in which Shenzhen never threatened. 'Their spirit was missing a bit,' said Mara. 'They have good players and a good team, but we had the better spirit and that's why we won.'
The lifeless Shenzhen performance seemed inevitable for a team who haven't been paid since May, but Togolese striker Djima Oyawole, who limped out of the first half with a thigh injury, insisted it had nothing to do with the club's financial plight. 'We were very dull. It had to happen and unfortunately it happened this time. I can't hide it, they deserved to win,' he said.
The upset didn't erode Shenzhen's lead in the standings as second-placed Shandong Luneng also stumbled, 2-1 at Inter Shanghai.
Inter went ahead in the 20th minute courtesy of Cheng Liang, who chased down an ineffective clearance by Shandong defenders and rifled in from 30 metres. Ze Alcino doubled the lead for the hosts by beating Shandong keeper Zong Lei one-on-one soon after the restart. Li Xiaopeng's breath-taking volley in stoppage time was mere consolation for Shandong, who missed another opportunity to cut the eight-point gap with Shenzhen.
Elsewhere, Liaoning Zhongyu crushed Shenyang Ginde 3-1, while Sichuan Guancheng were held to a goalless draw by visiting Chongqing Qiche.
Meanwhile, former Chinese national captain Fan Zhiyi has made it back to the domestic top flight by helping Division 1 side Zhuhai Zhongbang earn a place in next season's Chinese Super League.
Zhuhai won 1-0 at Jiangsu Shuntian on Saturday to open up an unassailable 13-point lead over third-placed Guangzhou Rizhiquan.