Shenhua exits ACL after Antlers home draw

SHANGHAI Greenland Shenhua was eliminated from this year's AFC Champions League after a 2-2 draw with Japan's Kashima Antlers at Hongkou Football Stadium last night.
Shenhua exits ACL after Antlers home draw

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua Giovanni Moreno is challenged by Kashima Antlers’ Leandro during a AFC Champions League Group H match at Hongkou Football Stadium in Shanghai last night. 

SHANGHAI Greenland Shenhua was eliminated from this year’s AFC Champions League after a 2-2 draw with Japan’s Kashima Antlers at Hongkou Football Stadium last night.

The Chinese Super League side had three draws and a loss from its first four matches and needed to win to have any hope of advancing from the group, of which the top two qualify.

To the joy of home fans, Shenhua had a dream start, clinching a 2-0 advantage within 30 minutes of the kickoff.

Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins was uppended by Kashima defender Tomoya Inukai in the box in the 11th. Captain Giovanni Moreno found the back of the net from the spot.

However, Martins pulled a leg muscle in the 19th, forcing manager Wu Jingui into an early substitution — bringing on fellow striker Mao Jianqing.

The change led to Shenhua’s second goal as Mao scored from a header off a corner pass from Fredy Guarin in the 28th.

Aidi Fulangxisi almost added another for Shenhua before the end of the first half but his close-range shot went over the bar.

The J league side adjusted its pace after the break. Striker Yuma Suzuki pulled one back in the 58th when he tapped home into an open net after Leo Silva’s shot deflected onto his path. Five minutes later, Suzuki assisted Leandro for the equalizer.

Shenhua players fought hard for the rest of the match but could not find a way to score.

“We actually managed to play according to our game-plan,” midfielder Wang Wei said after the match. “However, the result was not what we wished for. Also, our previous match was only three days ago, which affected our stamina.”

With one more round left, Shenhua is now bottom of Group H on four points, three points short of second-placed Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who lost 1-4 to Sydney FC at home. Leader Kashima (9) advanced while Sydney is third on five points.

In a Group G match, two-time Asian champion Guangzhou Evergrande was held 1-1 away to Buriram United after Yoo Jun-soo scored an injury-time goal for the Thai side.

Fabio Cannavaro’s team remains top of the group on nine points — one ahead of Cerezo Osaka of Japan and three ahead of Buriram. South Korea’s Jeju United — which lost 1-2 to Cerezo — is already out, sitting at the bottom with three points.

Guangzhou needs just one point from its final group match — against Cerezo — to secure a slot in the last-16.

Meanwhile, former Shenhua general manager Zhou Jun has left the club and joined CSL newcomer Dalian Yifang, Shenhua announced earlier.

Having spent 11 years with Shenhua, Zhou was responsible for the team’s operation, including the purchase of players.

After a farewell meeting with players on Monday, Zhou left Shanghai for Dalian in the next chapter of his career as Yifang’s general manager.

Zhou was one of the top officials during Shenhua’s “Zhu Jun era”. Entrepreneur Zhu was Shenhua’s major investor from 2007 to 2014, when the club signed big-name players like Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

“Due to some personal reasons, I chose to leave Shenhua and seek another kind of development,” Zhou said during the farewell meet. “After so many years here, some players and I are more like brothers.”

Zhou was often under pressure from fans due to his power to bring in players, especially when players’ performance failed to meet fans’ expectation or when the club was on a poor run.

Shenhua signed Argentina striker Carlos Tevez last year and made him one of the highest-paid players in the world. However, he proved to be of little help to the team and was also criticized for being overweight He left at the beginning of this year.

Zhou and club president Wu Xiaohui were under a lot of pressure due to fans’ criticism during the period.

Zhou was reported to have been contacted by a headhunting company entrusted by Dalian Yifang before making the “switch”.

His position will be taken over by former Shanghai Football Association spokesperson Zhu Junwei, who joined Shenhua this year as vice general manager in charge of youth training and other club affairs.

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