Beijing taste maiden success
Beijing Guoan clinched their first national championship title on Saturday as they cruised to a 4-0 victory at home over Hangzhou Lucheng in the closing round of the 2009 Chinese Super League.
Never before had the C-league been so fiercely contested in its history as the title race went down to the final day, with Beijing leading Henan Jianye on goal difference, a point clear of Changchun Yatai.
This meant Beijing could not afford to slip-up against Hangzhou, who were also desperate to win the game to avoid relegation. Spurred on by a capacity crowd of 60,000 in the Workers' Stadium, the side from the capital showed their visitors no mercy. Honduran Emil Martinez hat trick and Zhou Ting's 76th minute penalty ensured a routine victory to send the trophy to the capital.
The win plunged the green-clad home supporters into raptures, ending their 15-year wait for the title. Since the C-league's inauguration in 1994, Beijing had won the FA Cup three times while twice winning the Super Cup, with the league title the only domestic honour to have evaded their grasp.
With their dreams now realized, coach Hong Yuanshuo could hardly hide his excitement as the celebrations went on across Beijing. "The players showed they are capable of coping with any difficulties and despite the pressure facing us, they maintained their level of performance to live up to the expectations."
Having won the Chinese Player of the Year award with Shanghai Shenhua last season, Martinez became Beijing's hero this time around after helping them win the decisive match with his crucial hat trick. The 27-year-old looked a shadow of his former self after moving to Beijing earlier this year, scoring only twice prior to the final game.
Unlike Martinez's late return to form, a pair of Australian brothers proved to be two of the team's most consistent performers. Ryan and Joel Griffiths, who joined Beijing this season, became the team's driving forces, scoring eight goals in as many games.
Henan Jianye surprised even their own supporters by coming so close to winning their first-ever league title. In doing so they also owed tremendous gratitude to their imported star, Polish striker Emmanuel Olisadebe, who notched ten goals before being ruled out for the last four games due to injury.
A 3-2 win over Chongqing Lifan gave Changchun Yatai runners-up spot ahead of Henan, who had to settle for third place following a 3-1 defeat to Shenzhen. Despite a single-goal defeat to Chengdu Blades, defending champions Shandong Luneng overcame Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Teda to claim fourth place on goal difference.
At the other end of the table, the loss in Beijing doomed Hangzhou to relegation alongside Chongqing, who had gone down to the second division a week ago. Filling the voids they have left are Liaoning and Nanchang Bayi, who finished in the top two spots respectively in this season's Second Division to gain promotion.
The top four finishers were guaranteed a place at next year's AFC Champions League with Beijing hoping to translate their domestic hegemony on to the continental stage.