Changchun Yatai were today crowned champions of the 2020 China League One season, after a dominating 3-0 victory over Chengdu Better City.
The north-eastern club entered the 2020 campaign as the favourites to earn promotion, even before the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic forced Chinese football into significant changes and a much later than usual start date.
The 2007 Chinese Super League champions breezed through the initial group stage of the tournament, finishing atop Group C with six wins, three draws and one loss.
Entering the promotion stage, any of the six teams competing looked like they could walk away with the top prize, with particular focus now on the likes of Meizhou Hakka, who was the only undefeated team left, and Chengdu Better City, who had the best record of any team prior to this stage.
With Changchun Yatai also changing managers part-way through the initial group stage, with Chen Yang replacing Samvel Babayan in a truly surprising turn of events, fans were holding their breath and hoping the team would come through it positively.
They needn’t have worried, though, as Changchun dominated the final stage of the season, winning four out of their five matches, with a goalless draw coming against Zhejiang Greentown – who finished in second place and will need to win a playoff against the second-lowest ranked CSL side to earn promotion.
In those five matches, Changchun Yatai did something truly unexpected – earning five consecutive clean sheets en route to the league title, their first second-tier championship since 2003.
The victory sees Changchun return to the Chinese Super League for the first time since 2018, when they suffered a shock relegation on the final day of the season – also missing out on immediate promotion in 2019 after a strong run in the middle part of the season.
Tan Long was once again the main man for the club, finishing the season as the top goalscorer in the league with 11 goals from 15 appearances – seeing the Chinese international return to a level he deserves to be playing at, likely securing his future with the club in the long-term.
The one downside to the club winning the league in 2020, is that long-standing captain Zhang Xiaofei, who retired after the 2019 season, was not involved and could not retire on a high.
It would have been nice to see such a great servant of the club’s end his career with more silverware, but it just wasn’t to be.
The honour of wearing the captain’s armband and raising the League One trophy passed to Sun Jie this season, and the big defender will no doubt play a key role for the team for many years to come.
Interesting Future Ahead
There will be plenty of questions surrounding the team moving forward, including whether or not Chen Yang has earned the right to manage the team in the top tier, after effectively continuing the strong performances that Babayan and his constructed squad was already showing.
The status of loan players, including Zhang Yu, will also be focal points for the fans as the club looks to strengthen even further and ensure they do not suffer another disappointing relegation, putting the club back in a position it always seemed to deserve.
For now, though, fans across the motor city will be celebrating with their bai jiu, their chuan’er and their friends as Changchun Yatai have added silverware to their trophy cabinet and will once again be a Super League club in 2021.