A rabid group stage record crowd and wave-after-wave of 2nd half attacks wasn’t enough to save Guangzhou from crashing to a painful ACL defeat at Tianhe stadium on Tuesday night.
The expectancy levels were high for this match with red shirts milling around Tianhe from early morning. The official ticket outlets had sold out the day before and the many huang niu lurking around the Tianhe sports complex were asking 300 rmb upwards for briefs.
The game and, consequently, group qualification seemed a formality when, after 10 mins, Zhang Linpeng burst into the Jeonbuk area only to be bundled over. Conca dispatched the resultant spot kick and the home support prepared for an evening of Evergrande dominance and celebration.
Those familiar with Group H should have known better as Jeonbuk started to gain control of the midfield and began creating a series of patient attacks coupled with half chances.
Guangzhou, for their part, seemed content to hold onto what they had and concede possession in the centre of the park. This tactic was punished a minute before the break when Guangzhou’s rearguard was sliced open and Seung-Hyun Lee slotted home following a goalmouth scramble.
There was still an air of optimism as the 2nd half kicked-off, with most believing that Guangzhou would move up a gear and see off Jeonbuk’s challenge.
In fairness, Guangzhou started to take control of the midfield and opportunities began to appear. Proceedings turned even more in Guangzhou’s favour when, after 66 minutes, Sung-Hwan Cho was red carded for a 2nd bookable offence. The game was there for the taking and Guangzhou dominated possession, moved the ball around the park and created chance-after-chance-after-chance.
It has to be said, Jeonbuk’s two lines of defence closed down Guangzhou in the penalty area and space was at a premium. Most of the chances required split second decisions and Guangzhou were found wanting, especially as the favourite ploy of the team is to try and walk the ball into the net.
Jeonbuk duly punished Guangzhou’s lack of indecision as the 2006 ACL winners and 2011 finalists hit the home side with a cruel, double sucker-punch.
On 91 minutes, Zheng Zhi failed to clean-up a hopeful pass forward and Jeonbuk struck swiftly, two on one with the keeper with Dong-Gook Lee sweeping home. The final nail in the coffin arrived two minutes later from the penalty spot after Guangzhou were yet again caught out by the speed of Jeonbuk’s counter-attack. Dong-Gook Lee netting his 2nd goal from the penalty spot.
In hindsight, Guangzhou could have settled for the draw which would have meant they entered the final group game still in pole position. However, playing against a team seemingly on the ropes with 10 men and qualification guaranteed with a victory, I think Guangzhou choose the correct option.
What everyone didn’t expect was how Jeonbuk sucked up all the pressure and hit Guangzhou where it really hurt. Guangzhou can still qualify, as can each team in Group H, and it’s going to be one hell of a match day 6 in a fortnight. Never can I remember the label “group of death” being so apt.
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