Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 Central Coast Mariners
AFC Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg
Muriqui 7′, Conca 45+1′, Gao Lin 68′
Guangzhou Evergrande scored three goals without reply at Tianhe Stadium to beat Central Coast Mariners of Australia 5-1 on aggregate and ensure their continued participation in the Asian Champions League when it resumes in four months’ time. Mariners never really looked like challenging Guangzhou’s supremacy on the night, with the gulf between the sides much more obvious than it had been a week ago in Gosford.
Mariners’ manager Graham Arnold, who has previously been linked with the newly vacant hotseat at Guangzhou R&F, noted in the build-up to this game the importance to his team’s chances of not conceding an early goal. “If we concede in the first half it will pretty much be game over, as then we’ll have to get three,” he said. “We need to go out there and make sure we are defensively strong.”
Unfortunately for Arnold, his players were unable to live up to his expectations, despite lining up almost the same way as when they had performed so well last week, the only change being fit-again first choice right back Trent Sainsbury returning in place of Pedrag Bojić. Perhaps cowed by the thunderously exuberant home crowd, they allowed the Cantonese side to take control right from the start and conceded the opener after just six minutes. An inspired back-heeled flick from Gao Lin directed a Zheng Zhi forward ball into Muriqui’s path, in the process shattering Mariners’ defence and giving the Brazilian all the time and space he needed to pick his spot and slot the ball past Ryan.
Although Evergrande had also only made one change to the team that played last week, Rong Hao replacing the injured Barrios, they lined up very differently in this fixture. Sun Xiang joined Kim and Feng Xiaoting on the left side of a three man defence (the first time I’ve seen him employed this way) with Rong Hao and Zhang Linpeng patrolling the left and right wings respectively. This worked very well at first, with both wing players making major contributions to the attack. Camping outside their opponent’s box with the ball and pressing mercilessly without, Guangzhou looked extremely comfortable and capable of scoring at any moment.
As the half wore on however, the visitors began trying to exploit the space left on the flanks, particularly on the right where Feng was having trouble covering for Zhang who was perhaps pushing too far forward at times. Ibini-Isei and McGlinchey made a few threatening runs and their side had a couple of half-opportunities before Lippi changed to a four man defence with Zhang pulled back, which kept the Mariners at bay for the rest of the half.
Frustrated by their inability to influence the game by fair play, the away side turned increasingly to foul, abetted by the officiating team who seemed content to ignore the majority of infractions. Niggly little pushes and kicks abounded, but in injury time the referee made the right call when Ibini-Isei tripped Muriqui in the box, and Conca put away the resulting penalty decisively.
Emerging for the second half, the Australians knew they now needed to score three goals without reply in 45 minutes to progress and while they never entirely gave up, they never looked like they believed they were capable of doing it either. Guangzhou reverted to 3-5-2, but this time with Sun on the left wing, Rong on the right (though he was replaced by Feng Junyang before the hour was up), and Zhang on the right side of the back three, pushing the substantially slower Feng into the centre where he belongs. This seemed to work better than having Zhang on the wing and, unable to penetrate the centre, Mariners were largely restricted to hopelessly deep crosses into the box.
The home side did plenty of attacking themselves early on in the half, Gao Lin in particular spurning two very presentable chances. The influential Conca assisted him in finally getting his name on the scoresheet midway through, a fitting reward for another excellent performance; he looked marginally offside, but there had been a few dodgy looking offside decisions against Evergrande earlier on so it was hard to feel sorry for the opposition.
Gao’s departure for Qin Sheng three minutes later more or less signalled the end of the home side’s offensive endeavors. There was still time for a nasty flying kick on Feng Junyang by McBreen (which he was lucky not to see red for) and a few shots from the Australian side, including one stopped only by an acrobatic Zhang Linpeng goal-line clearance and another disallowed for offside, before the final whistle confirmed Guangzhou’s progression to the Quarter Finals. They only seem to be improving as the season progresses and with Elkeson likely to be in the squad for the next phase of the competition they have every chance of going all the way. Roll on September!
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 6 Feng Xiaoting; 33 Rong Hao, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 37 Zhao Xuri, 10 Zheng Zhi, 15 Conca; 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 7 Feng Junyang (for Rong Hao 58′), 16 Huang Bowen (for Zhao Xuri 61′), 8 Qin Sheng (for Gao Lin 71′), 4 Zhao Peng, 14 Feng Renliang, 25 Peng Xinli
Central Coast Mariners: 1 Ryan; 3 Rose, 6 Zwaanswijk, 5 Anderson, 16 Sainsbury; 9 Ibini-Isei, 7 Hutchinson, 18 Montgomery, 14 McGlinchey, 2 McBreen; 19 Duke
Subs: 20 Pasfield, 11 Bozanic (for Hutchinson 59′), 21 Sterjovski (for Duke 72′), 29 Fitzgerald (for Ibini-Isei 77′), 4 Bojić, 8 Pellegrino, 15 McDonald, 20 Pasfield
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