It says much for the inexorable manner of Shandong Luneng's march to the Chinese title that they could even afford a 3-2 final day defeat to Changchun Yatai on Sunday and still finished the most emphatic-ever winners in the Super League's history.

Shandong have, in truth, been able to coast through the final six rounds of fixtures ever since clinching the championship on 27 August with a 1-0 win over Beijing Guoan. Records, however, have been broken along the way, with a final tally of 69 points ensuring that they surpassed seven-time champions Dalian Shide's previous record. International striker Li Jinyu also set a new benchmark in the Super League's 13-year history, topping its scoring chart with an impressive haul of 26 goals.

Under Serbian coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic, Shandong had looked near-unstoppable as they recorded an incredible 22 victories in 28 matches while only drawing and losing three apiece, leaving them fully 17 points clear of closest rivals Shanghai Shenhua. This remarkable success has also, of course, secured them a spot in next year's AFC Champions League, and Tumbakovic's outfit could yet repeat the club's double-winning success of 1999 when they cross swords with Dalian in the Chinese FA Cup final on November 18.

"It is indeed something to brag about to win the league champions in the world's most populous country," Tumbakovic said. "I am amazed by my players, who have done really a great job."

Shandong's constant quest for improvement was typified in Li Jinyu, sounded a note of disappointment as he failed to add three more goals to his already-enviable tally. "Twenty-nine is my lucky number," he said, "because it represents my age and my jersey number. I hope next season I will do better."

Shenhua keep Champions League hopes alive
With Shandong's lead unassailable, the focus in the final stages of this season's Super League campaign was on the race for second place.

In the end, two-time champions Shanghai Shenhua retained the runners-up position, but only after their 2-1 win against Liaoning saw them overhaul Beijing Hyundai, who suffered a sickening 2-0 defeat at the hands of recently-promoted Xiamen Lanshi.

Playing away in Liaoning's Fushun Stadium, Shenhua got off to a perfect start as Cheng Liang opened scoring after only eight minutes and the outcome was effectively put beyond doubt when Honduran Luis Alfredo Ramirez doubled the advantage two minutes into the second period. Liaoning did manage to pull a goal back through Xu Liang, but his late strike proved nothing more than a consolation.

This victory was crucial for Shenhua to keep alive their hopes of booking a place in next season's AFC Champions League. They will now be rooting for Shandong to defeat Dalian in the FA Cup final next month because that would see the Shanghai outfit advance automatically alongside the double-winners to next year's continental club showpiece.  

New boys impress
It was not only at the very top of the table that there were success stories in the Chinese Super League this season.

Changchun Yatai, in their first season in the top flight since gaining promotion, surprised even their most optimistic supporters by grabbing fourth place, thanks largely to two promising youngsters, Cao Baotian and rising national star Du Zhenyu. The striking duo emerged the team's revelations, bagging 17 of the 41 goals that earned the league's new boys such an impressive final position.

Another newly-promoted outfit, Xiamen Lanshi, also enjoyed a memorable season. Under former national team and Beijing Guo striking legend Gao Hongbo, the Fujian-based team overtook the likes of 2002 league champions Shenzhen Jinwei and last season's dark horses Wuhan Guanggu to finish ninth in the 15-team division.

At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, Chongqing Lifan were the only team consigned to relegation as Sichuan Guancheng had withdrawn from the league even before the season kicked off. Replacing them will be Henan Jianye and Zhejiang Lvcheng, who claimed the first-division's top two places to successfully gain promotion to the Super League.