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Muriqui Sparkles as Evergrande Cut Through Red Diamonds

Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 Urawa Red Diamonds

ACL Group F Round 1

L. Barrios 16′; Muriqui 66′; K. Suzuki (OG) 90’+1

Guangzhou Evergrande kicked their 2013 season off in encouraging fashion tonight, comfortably beating their Japanese visitors in the opening game of ACL Group F. Muriqui was probably man of the match in his first competitive game back since being injured in last season’s ACL quarter-final, contributing a goal and an assist and looking menacing every time he had the ball, but new Evergrande keeper Zeng Cheng was also most impressive on his competitive debut. Urawa didn’t play badly and controlled possession for stretches of the game, but despite a very vocal away support they never really looked like producing the cutting edge required to get a result at Tianhe Stadium.

The opening stages were replete with characteristic early-season rustiness; a number of sloppy passes were sprayed about and the otherwise excellent Zhang Linpeng got himself booked within four minutes. Guangzhou initially played three at the back with Lippi unfortunately persisting in trying to fill the sweeper hole between Zhang and Kim with Qin Sheng. The midfielder’s defensive frailties were exposed as early as the seventh minute when he allowed Urawa danger man Genki Haraguchi to skip easily past him and set up left-back Tomoya Ugajin for a shot that was blocked by Rong Hao, surprisingly employed on the right wing. From the resulting corner, Zeng Cheng made his only real error of the night, coming out for the ball but failing to reach it, and was lucky to see Tomoaki Makino head just wide.

These three would contribute the most to Urawa’s offense over the course of the game, but by a quarter of an hour in the home side were starting to click. Zhang had a decent effort from distance saved before Barrios put the ball in the net for his second ACL goal. Conca had picked up an interception by Rong Hao and slid it through to Muriqui, who danced past Makino and goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato on the left before centering for an easy tap-in for the Paraguayan international.

The Cantonese side were almost two up moments later when Barrios knocked a clever ball through the middle for Muriqui to run around Mitsuru Nagata onto and dink over the onrushing Kato, only for it to be brilliantly cleared off the line at the last possible moment by a sliding Makino; the less said about Zheng Zhi’s follow-up, the better.

Qin Sheng hurt his ankle in a clumsy challenge on Haragucki in the 25th minute for which he was rightly booked, and while at first he tried to carry on, he signaled for treatment a few minutes later and was stretchered off. Urawa seemed amusingly disconcerted at being roundly booed for having the temerity to continue playing while Guangzhou had a numerical disadvantage. The apparently unfit Feng Xiaoting eventually replaced him, but thankfully produced a much better performance than he did the last time he played an ACL game when not 100% and surely will be first choice for the position in future.

Guangzhou were mostly content to sit back and soak up pressure from Red Diamonds for the rest of the half and the first twenty minutes or so of the next, though Conca managed to fit a few good attempts in. Lippi changed to four at the back at half-time, with Zhang moving to right-back to counter Urawa’s concentration on the left flank, but reverted back to three after swapping Barrios for Gao Lin in the 63rd minute. The goalscorer had done little useful since his tap-in (though admittedly Guangzhou’s deep play wasn’t suited to his game) and the last straw for Lippi was when he got robbed after dawdling an age in possession on the halfway line, and then barely bothered giving chase despite having left his side dangerously exposed.

The switch worked a treat as just three minutes later Rong Hao, back on the right, intercepted a wayward ball across the defence from Nagata, and exchanged it a couple of times with Muriqui, who finished the move with an exquisite volley around Kato and into the goalmouth.

Urawa initially responded well and had the ball in the net four minutes later only for it to be ruled offside, but with the extra goal cushion, Guangzhou started doing a lot more of the attacking. Ugajin was booked in the 79th minute for accidentally kicking Huang Bowen in the chest; Huang rolled around like he had been shot of course, only to be up running around a minute later (and presumably running his mouth off too as he picked up a booking of his own at the same time). Ugajin had a good chance thereafter that Zeng saved well, but in truth the Japanese side could not find within themselves anything that Evergrande could not deal with, and the home side always looked the more likely to score.

Rong Hao made a few good incursions into his opponent’s box, especially after Conca was replaced by Shi Hongjun, but ignored Muriqui in space a couple of times in his determination to get on the scoresheet, much to the Brazilian’s disapproval. Muriqui linked up well a number of times with the lively Gao Lin though; in the 86th minute, a great last minute tackle from Makino was all that prevented Gao from converting a neat Muriqui assist from the left, and in the first of three minutes of injury time he drew a parry out of Kato which Zheng Zhi headed onto the post. It dropped from there into Keita Suzuki’s lap, only for him to comically knee it into his own net.

There was almost time for a fourth when Gao Lin broke away on the right, but that would have been overly cruel on Red Diamonds. With the other two teams in Group F drawing, this result should fill Evergrande with confidence in their prospects for this seasons’ tilt at the continental trophy, and with Jiangsu Sainty losing their opening ACL game 5-1, it also sets them up nicely for next weekend’s Super Cup match.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng, 32 Sun Xiang, 33 Rong Hao, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 D. Conca (24 Shi Junhong 82′), 8 Qin Sheng (6 Feng Xiaoting 33′), 18 L. Barrios (29 Gao Lin 63′), 11 Muriqui

Urawa Red Diamonds: 18 N. Kato, 17 M. Nagata, 5 T. Makino, 46 R. Moriwaki, 22 Y. Abe, 13 K. Suzuki, 8 Y. Kashiwagi, 10 Marcio Richardes (19 T. Sakano 60′), 7 T. Umesaki (11 K. Sekiguchi 70′), 3 T. Ugajin, 24 G. Haraguchi

Irish Guangzhou Evergrande fan, following them since I fortuitously found myself living next to Tianhe Stadium in 2011, reporting on them for Wild East Football since 2012.



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