Nicolas Anelka scored in his highly-anticipated debut in the Chinese Super League today but was powerless to prevent new club Shanghai Shenhua losing 3-2 to fierce rivals Beijing Guoan.
The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker equalised for Shenhua to make it 2-2 with a simple tap midway through the second half after a defensive lapse from Beijing -- raising hopes of a victory in a match dubbed the 'China Derby'. The capital side had gone two goals ahead thanks to efforts from Piao Cheng and Portuguese midfielder Manu.
Australian striker Joel Griffiths started the Shenhua comeback, showing nerves of steel to make it 2-1 from the penalty spot in his first game for the club since signing from Guoan in January. Former Shanghai winger Mao Jianqing ended the hopes of his old club however, scoring the late winner for Beijing, in what was his first match for Guoan.
Last Saturday Anelka had disappointed supporters after missing Shenhua's opening Chinese Super League fixture against regional rivals Jiangsu Sainty due to injury. The Frenchman had been rated as doubtful ahead of the clash at the 68,000 capacity Workers' Stadium in Beijing, but was deemed fit enough to come out for his new side.
He saluted the 150-strong away support who responded with a rapturous cheer and chanted their new hero's name. Some of Shenhua's support had travelled 15 hours north on the cheapest train tickets available in the hope of witnessing his debut.
"I want to say, I came here to support the team and not just Anelka", said Shanghai fan David Xie, "but I couldn't have hoped for a better team to see him score his first goal against, even if we lost."
The match between China's largest two cities is the biggest fixture in domestic sport and some 40,000 fans were in the stadium as the match kicked off. Anelka became the biggest signing in the history of Chinese football after agreeing a deal reputed to be worth €270,000-a-week with Shenhua in December.