Name: Liaoning Whowin FC
Official website: www.infootball.com.cn
The last decade has been a barren one on the continental stage for China PR. Dalian Shide's runners-up performance in the 1998 Asian Club Championship marked the last time the world’s most populous nation have come close to winning an Asian title. Indeed Beijing Guoan are the only Chinese participants to have progressed beyond the group stage over the past four editions of the AFC Champions League.
But China did once boast a side that reached the summit of Asian football side in Liaoning Whowin. Despite their current modest status in the Chinese Super League, the Shenyang-based club had long been a dominant force on both the domestic and Asian front. In a period of a decade and half from 1978 to 1993, Liaoning won the Chinese championship for a record eight times, while most notably prevailing at the 1990 Asian Club Championship. 21 years on that achievement marks the only time a C-League side have etched their name on Asia’s elite piece of silverware.
Birth of an institution
Liaoning came into being in 1953 four years after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The entity was known as Northeast Sports Team and was initially established to represent not only their province, but also the region. They emerged victors in the national championship in just the second year of their existence, before changing their name into the Northeast Sports Academy a year later.
It was not until 1959 that they were reformed as a provincial team in the name of Liaoning and, boasting the country's top-level training facilities and development schemes, it was no surprise that they were among the nation's top-contenders thereafter.
The making of a legend
After China carried out its reform policy in 1977, with sports competitions back to normal, it didn't take Liaoning long to regain their former status, claiming the newly-revamped national championship the next year. But they suffered a steady decline over the immediate subsequent years. They finished an all-time lowest eighth in 1981, before gradually clawing themselves back to third in 1983.
That, however, proved to be the dawn to a golden era, with a host of talented youngsters coming up through the ranks. Laying the foundation of the golden generation was Ni Jide, a highly-respected youth coach who nurtured the likes of Ma Lin, Tang Yaodong and Li Huajun, all of whom would form the spine of the team for both club and country.
Blessed with such prodigies, the new-look Liaoning took the inaugural FA Cup in 1984 by storm, overwhelming Guangzhou 5-0 in the final to become the first cup winners. That triggered the reemergence of the club, who went on to dominate the domestic scene in the decade to come, during which they added another seven league championships and one cup title to their trophy cabinet.
Above all these achievements, however, is undoubtedly their successful ascent to the Asian crown in 1990. Liaoning swept past the likes of Al Rasheed, Shahin Ahvaz and Pelita Jaya Jakarta to set up a meeting in the final against Japan’s Nissan Yokohama. Under Li Yingfa, the Chinese champions took an early advantage by winning the first leg 2-1 away, before drawing 1-1 at home to run out 3-2 victors on aggregate. The next year saw them again storm into the final, only this time they were edged out 2-1 by Iranian heavyweights Esteghlal.
Their halcyon days, however, were brought to a close with the advent of professionalism in 1994. Struggling with financial problems, Liaoning managed to finish fourth place but a continuous drain of star players to big-spending clubs condemned the club to relegation in 1996 for the first time.
After spending three seasons in the second division, they earned their return to the top flight in 1999. Once again it was a group of promising stars that were responsible for the club rising from ashes. Among the most notable were Li Tie and Zhao Junzhe, who went on to feature significantly for the national team in their only FIFA World Cup™ appearance at Korea/Japan 2002.
Under the tutelage of Zhang Yin, Liaoning finished runners-up in their first season back into the top division, missing out on their ninth title only after drawing 1-1 with Beijing Guoan in the concluding round. However, the return to prominence proved short-lived, and the club slipped back to the status of strugglers before suffering their second relegation in 2008.
Coached by the club’s former striking star Ma Lin, Liaoning forced their way back to the top competition by winning the second division the next year. After finishing seventh in the 16-strong Chinese Super League last season, the club have set about attempting to rebuild their lost credibility and establishing a return to the glory days.
Built in 2008, Tiexixinqu Stadium is a major sports complex second only to the legendary Shenyang Olympic Sports Center Stadium at Shenyang, the capital city of the Liaoning Province. With the latter among the venues for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, Tiexixinqu Stadium was chosen as its back-up and one of the training pitches for the global event three years ago. With a capacity of 30,000, the stadium possesses world-class facilities.
Chinese league champions (8): 1978, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993
Chinese FA Cup winners (2): 1984, 1986
Chinese Super Cup winners (1): 1999
Asian Club Championship winners (1): 1990
Asian Club Championship runners-up (1): 1991
Qi Wusheng, Gai Zengchen, Lin Lefeng, Zhao Faqing, Fu Yubin, Ma Lin, Tang Yaodong, Li Huajun, Gao Sheng, Alen Avdic, Hristo Yovov, Li Jinyu, Li Tie, Qu Shengqing, Zhang Yuning, Zhao Junzhe.
*The honours listed above are considered to be the club’s major titles and, as such, are not intended to be a full list of achievements.