The former Chelsea striker brought a crowd of 51,000 to its feet, but his effort was in vain as Beijing Guoan went on to win 3-2 in dramatic fashion.
The former Chelsea man was given the honor of the captain's armband in place of usual skipper Jiang Kun, who started on the bench. But Anelka's appearance was just one of many intriguing story lines on this night. The Jianghu ('National') Derby featured two players who had previously belonged to the other side in Guoan's Mao Jianqing and Shenhua's Joel Griffiths.
Beijing drew first blood before the stroke of halftime with a strike by Piao Cheng, before doubling the lead in the 53rd minute on Portugeuese winger Manu's goal. But Shenhua went on to mount a remarkable comeback.
Griffiths put the visitors on the scoreboard with a penalty just after the hour mark, and only four minutes later Anelka converted into an empty net, jumping over the advertising boards to celebrate with the Shenhua faithful.
Their joy was short-lived, however, as Jianquing stunned his former team with an 83rd-minute header. After substitute Kun was shown a straight red card in the 88th minute, Shenhua was unable to mount a comeback and remained winless two games into the league campaign.
Triumphant Guoan, meanwhile, will prepare to meet visiting Brisbane Roar on Tuesday night in its second Asian Champions League group stage fixture.
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