Hengda make winning start in Super League
Chan Kin-wa in Guangzhou
A 50 million yuan (HK$59.42 million) variety show featuring pop stars kicked off the new Chinese Super League season last night as home team Guangzhou Hengda defeated Dalian Shide 1-0.
Brazilian striker Cleo Cordova, who joined from Belgrade Partizan for a reported fee of HK$32 million, scored the only goal in the second half to give Hengda a perfect start, much to the delight of the 60,000 fans who packed Tianhe Stadium.
The extravagant, 30-minute opening ceremony marked the determination of the Guangzhou team, newly promoted to the16-team elite league, to break the domination of the northern sides.
Since its inauguration in 2004, the Super League has seen just one team from the south - Shenzhen Jianlibao in the first year - claim the championship. After that, it was teams such as Shandong, Dalian, Beijing and Changchun who dominated the league.
But Hengda, who have a 200 million yuan budget, are determined to usurp the northern powers.
The club, backed financially by their owner - a property developer listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange - have promised the players a 5 million yuan bonus for a win, 1 million yuan for a draw and a 3 million yuan penalty if they lose a match.
'Hengda are very aggressive and they want to win the league in their first year in the top flight,' said Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak, who was one of the many guests at the opening ceremony.
'They have signed up a couple of China internationals and their expenditure on foreign players is also staggering.'
Brazilian forward Muriqui joined Hengda last season when they were still in the lower-tier First Division and his transfer fee was reported to be US$3.5 million. And Muriqui did not let the club down by helping Hengda finish top of the standings to gain promotion to the Super League.
Muriqui has also combined well with Cordova and the pair are sure to be a threat to the other teams.
'We are happy to win our first match in the Super League. It is a big boost to the players,' said Hengda's head coach Lee Jang-soo. 'It's always difficult in the opening match, especially against a top team like Shide.
'The fans certainly played their part.'
But whether money can bring success remains to be seen. The recent scandals in Chinese soccer have led to many fans turning their back on the sport.
At the opening ceremony, when China's top referee Sun Baojie took the oath on behalf of match officials saying they would conduct matches in a fair and impartial manner, he was jeered by the 60,000 fans.