After all the talk of no leniency in Dario Conca’s nine match suspension, he was allowed to play against Buriram and turned out to be the hero when he scored an added time penalty to give Guangzhou Evergrande a 2-1 victory.
With the Jeonbuk-Kashiwa match ending around the same time as this game started, the sides knew how things stood in the group, Buriram was eliminated and Guangzhou would need a victory if they wanted to advance. The first half was a tight affair, with both sides adjusting to the pouring rain and the pitch. Buriram had a slight advantage in chances, with Frank Acheampong once again causing havoc down the left side of the pitch and abusing Zhang Linpeng and the Evergrande defense.
However, Buriram’s best chance of the half came from a long shot by Pratum Chuthong that kareemed off a Guangzhou defender, but keeper Li Shuai was up to the task. Guangzhou wasn’t without chances of its own, the best coming when Cleo headed into the path of Jiang Ning, whose acrobatic shot was just over the bar. The first half would end with tense moments at both ends, but the score remained 0-0.
To open the second half, manager Lee Jangsoo took off attacking midfielder Jiang Ning for defensive midfielder Qin Sheng, a questionable move with Guangzhou in need of a win. It appears Lee was more concerned with solidifying the defense and keeping Acheampong at bay.
Guangzhou quickly showed there was no reason to be concerned about their offense, in the 48th minute a Conca long ball beat the Buriram offside trap and set Gao Lin free on the keeper. Gao had Cleo open in the middle, but saw the keeper was playing the pass and instead decided to cooly hit it short side past the keeper, giving Evergrande the 1-0 lead.
From that point on, the match would be an exciting, wide open clash. Buriram would find an equalizer in the 57th minute, playing a long ball into the box that Zheng Zhi headed right into the path of Thai striker, Suriya Domtaisong, who finished with ease. It was an unacceptable error from a wizened veteran and the team’s captain, one Zheng’s sure not to forget.
The end-to-end action would continue, Acheampong started off an attack that ended with a cross played to him wide open in the middle, but his shot was flubbed wide. Evergrande went straight down the pitch with the triple attack of Cleo, Muriqui (who was surprisingly brought on in the 65th minute), and Gao Lin. Cleo knocked it past the keeper, but was well offside.
Buriram dominated the final 20 minutes of the match, looking far more desperate for a winner and looking the better side, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, in the last minute a ball was played into Cleo, the aerial threat the team tried to exploit all game, and he was taken down by the Thai defender, the referee pointing to the spot. Conca stepped up to handle the penalty and though the keeper got a hand on it, the shot was too poweful, finding the back of the net.
It wasn’t pretty and Evergrande’s got a lot to work on if they want to advance beyond the Round of 16, but it was enough on the night to allow them to top the group and advance out of the group stage, the only Chinese team to do so.
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