Changchun Yatai managed to secure an exciting 4-3 victory over Nanjing City in the third round of the Chinese FA Cup this week.
The Chinese Super League club were favourites to win before the match kicked off, and they put out strong squad that featured captain Serginho controlling the midfield and the leading league goalscorer Leonardo leading the attacking line.
This approach saw the team leading 1-0 at half-time through Leonardo’s 11th goal of the season, before the China League One side managed to pull two back to take the lead in the second.
About a two-minute period of quality from Serginho put Changchun Yatai back ahead before on-loan winger Cao Yongjing netted the decisive goal, with Nanjing netting a consolation before time expired.
The win sends Chen Yang’s side into the fourth round, where they will take on fellow CSL side Qingdao Hainiu, hoping to mount a strong cup run not seen before.
Changchun have always neglected the CFA Cup, focusing on their league endeavours, but it’s time that the competition is taken seriously and a concerted effort to perform well is made.
Changchun Yatai Cup History
Since their establishment in 1996, the furthest any team in Changchun Yatai history has progressed in the Chinese FA Cup has been the quarter-finals, which has been achieved on four occasions, in 2000, 2001, 2012 and most recently under Chen Yang’s guidance in 2020.
The competition was not held during the club’s ‘golden era’, between 2007 and 2009, with the likes of Du Zhenyu, Zong Lei and Wang Dong unable to help guide the club to further silverware success despite winning the Chinese Super League in 2007 and finishing second in 2009.
With the club never coming close to lifting the cup, preferring to mix things up with line-ups in recent years, could this season be the perfect time to try and build a winning team while their league position is comfortable and the team is performing well together as a unit?
A Route Forward
While Changchun Yatai currently sit in fifth place in the league, it would take some serious upsets for Chen Yang’s side to even come close to challenging for the title by the time 2023 comes to a close.
As a team, Changchun has impressed so far this year, with Leonardo particularly stepping up and having the best year of his Chinese football career with 10 league goals in just 12 appearances to date.
But with the league more than likely to be too far out of reach, the CFA Cup is the team’s only hope of winning anything for the rest of the season, especially with the current format potentially providing an easier pathway towards the latter stages.
In years gone by, teams would be re-drawn at each new stage, giving endless possibilities of match-ups and difficulties for every team remaining in the Chinese football pyramid, whereas this year’s edition has more of a pre-determined route.
With Covid impacting football across the country over the past few seasons, the cup has operated with a set bracket, allowing teams and fans to determine which possible opponents could be faced depending on match-ups at each stage.
Changchun entered the competition in the third round, with second-tier Nanjing City defeating third-tier Beijing BIT in the second round, with Beijing BIT having defeated fourth-tier side Fuzhou Changle Jingangtui in the first round.
It was clear that Changchun would expect each of the higher-staged teams to progress, making it easier to project their opponent by the time they came around. Now, they’ll face fellow top-tier side Qingdao.
They also know what their cup run could entail based on other results. Should they win against Qingdao, they will face either Wuhan Three Towns or Nantong Zhiyun in the quarter-finals, which would match the best finish in their history.
Continuing to play a squad of first-teamers, including as many of their import players as possible each round will give Changchun a genuine chance against each opponent through the next couple of rounds, with each stage progressively getting harder, and would be a clear signal of intent from the coaching staff that the cup is a competition the team now covets.
Being a stable club has always been a priority for Changchun Yatai, but after close to three decades of existence, with two second-tier trophies and one CSL to their name, it’s time for the club to start to add to their trophy cabinet and the best way to do that is by focusing more on performing well with each cup round.