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Only in the CSL: Champions League’s A-Changin’

Were they celebrating too soon in Shenyang?

This post actually should be “Only in the AFC” as for once the Chinese Super League walks away without blame and instead a whole heap of blame falls on the shoulders of the AFC.  The Asian Football Confederation (“AFC”), who is in charge of the Asian Champions League (“ACL”), met last week to decide a number of things, including the status of the Champions League next year.

It’s been a tough week for Liaoning.  Originally, the club thought by fighting and scrapping to the 3rd position in the Chinese Super League, they’d secured themselves Champions League football for next season.  Unfortunately, when the AFC started meeting on the 17th, there were rumblings that because of China’s lowered FIFA ranking, the country’s 4 ACL spots would become 3.5.

This was a disheartening prospect, but the club’s fears were quickly satiated a few days later when on the 21st the AFC decided to continue allowing China 4 ACL spots for another year.  Despite the media reporting this as the AFC’s “final decision”, it was only the organization’s decision for two days as on the 23rd of November the official and final decision was handed down, China would only have 3 full spots in the 2011 Champions League and Liaoning would have to brave qualifying to make it into the group stage.

What makes things all the more idiotic is the AFC rule that says it’s Liaoning that has to go into the qualifying stage.  Instead of leaving it up to the domestic federation to choose who goes through qualifying (not that I can be sure the CFA would make the right decision), the AFC gives a free pass to the domestic cup winner and makes the team that finished 3rd (or 2nd, depending on seeds) go through qualifying.  That’s all well and good if the team had to go through an intense cup run, but Tianjin won 3 matches to secure the CFA Cup, a minor feat when compared to Liaoning’s fight through an entire season.

Liaoning is now considering removing themselves from the ACL, they don’t want to bother with qualifying and fear that if by the slim chance they fail to qualify, the AFC Cup would be a massive money drain on the club.  Indeed, this is a general problem in Asia.  Unlike in Europe, there’s very little money for the clubs who compete in the Champions League and it often turns into an expense and a distraction from the domestic schedule.  The fans pay it minimal attention and the players merely tolerate it.  We’ll see if Liaoning sticks to its guns or if the CFA steps in to convince them otherwise (the more likely result).

For those interested in Asian Champions League news, the draw will take place on December 6th.  The club’s that Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangzhou can be paired with are below:

Kashiwa Reysol (Japan)

Kashima Antlers (Japan)

Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Gamba Osaka (Japan)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea)

Ulsan Hyundai Horang FC (South Korea)

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC (South Korea)

Brisbane Roar FC (Australia)

Central Coast Mariners FC (Australia)

TBA (Thailand)

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.



  1. Tom Seungmin Lee

    04/12/2011 at 11:05

    Even tho you should kept it for domestic football associations to make a decision for who will be up there, it is their recommendation, not mandatory for choosing FA cup winners to be in the competition.

    Maybe ‘only 5 games’ but it can be harder than winning the league. No mistake allowed, winning the cup is different from just winning 5 league game in a row. Please remember, league only have 9 to 15 team but FA cup includes ALL THE REGISTRED TEAM in the whole nation. I know what the writer intedned to say, but the FA cup winners are worthy participants as much as the 4th in the league.

    • bcheng

      04/12/2011 at 12:15

      Tom, usually I would agree with you, however there are a couple places where you are wrong. I’m not completely sure about what the rules are, I believe it is required that the cup winner get a ACL spot.

      The CSL has 16 teams and finishing in the top 3, like Liaoning did, is a major accomplishment to achieve over 30 games. The Chinese FA Cup DOES NOT include all registered teams, it only includes clubs from the top 2 divisions. Tianjin, the winner of the CFA Cup, only won THREE matches. They were automatically given a bye to the quarterfinals due to their position last year and proceeded to win two matches at home and one at a neutral site to win the cup.

      I agree that the CFA Cup winner should get a spot, but I think it’s unfair to force Liaoning to go through qualifying instead of Tianjin. I’m disappointed with their decision, if it is final, to not participate in the competition, but I can understand their anger.

  2. Bobby

    05/12/2011 at 14:45

    Liaoning’s decision to not to participate in the ACL is a absolute shocker, there are some young and talented players in their squad,I do think they have the chance to be the dark house of ACL,but giving up without fighting in such a way is just scandalous.Even if Liaoning failed to qualify for the ACL,I believe they still have the chance to compete for the less prestious AFC Cup,given Liaoning’s chance to win CSL is very thin(and be relagated as well),I do think they could concentrate on winning AFC Cup next season and give their fans and players something to cheer about and be proud of.Because a trophy is a trophy after all.
    It’s really a shame that Liaoning always have the best young players in China,But at the same time have the WORST management in CSL.

    • bcheng

      05/12/2011 at 17:17

      I think that since Hongyuan took over, the management has improved. I agree it’s a shame that they are thinking of just quitting (the decision is supposedly “final”, but I still imagine they might reverse it), but I can understand the rationale. The ACL doesn’t have all that much cache as it is, and is a bane on club’s who don’t get big draws as the additional matches (and the travel) aren’t cheap.

      As for Liaoning’s young players, at least one of their two young stars (and possibly both) are unlikely to be on the team when the CSL kicks off next year.

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