Central Coast Mariners 1-2 Guangzhou Evergrande
AFC Champions League Round of 16 First Leg
Duke 7′; Barrios 28′, Muriqui 76′
An entertaining game in front of a very mixed crowd in Gosford last night ended in a somewhat fortunate away win for Guangzhou Evergrande against Central Coast Mariners. While the visitors were the better team overall, the plucky Australian underdogs put up a strong fight and all the goals had at least as much to do with luck as skill.
Watching on television, the less than half full 20,000 capacity Bluetongue Stadium seemed like a neutral venue. In fact, with at least 1,500 very vocal Chinese fans there (probably quite a few more and mostly bussed in from Sydney) it at times sounded more like the Cantonese were playing at home. Despite this, the attendance was still disappointingly lower than the average for regular A-League games.
The evening began on a rather fittingly farcical note as Guangzhou were forced to kick off with ten men. Having sent Gao Lin back to his dressing-room to change his socks, the Singaporean referee then insisted that the 7:30pm local time start be strictly adhered to. By the time Gao came back out a minute and a half into the match, play had already been stopped for a foul by Duke on Muriqui, the first of many incidents in which Evergrande players went down just a little bit too easily under the tough tackling Mariners.
As has become the norm this season, Evergrande didn’t seem to realise there was a match on at first. The home side, pressing aggressively whenever they didn’t have the ball, did most of the early attacking and were rewarded with a goal after just seven minutes. A clean pass from Montgomery set Ibini free out on the right of the box and, as he advanced in, striker Duke slipped away from his marker Kim, who had decided to join the three other Guangzhou players blocking Ibini’s way. A clever chip into the centre took them all out and left Duke free to knock the ball past Zeng, with Zhang’s best efforts to rush across the box to block only resulting in a helpful deflection.
McBreen sent a good opportunity wide ten minutes later as Guangzhou began to see more of the ball. The hard challenges continued apace with Zwaanswijk getting booked for a tackle from behind on Zheng Zhi 19 minutes in. He didn’t let it faze him however, blocking Conca’s effort on the rebound two minutes later after Barrios had wasted a good opening by shooting straight at the keeper.
The Paraguayan international was much more accurate six minutes later. A swift counter via Muriqui and Conca ended with the ball being repulsed to Zheng Zhi outside the D. His attempt at a shot, curling wildly up and to the right, would have been comical if it hadn’t fallen perfectly for the unmarked Barrios, who gleefully smashed it past Ryan in the Mariner goal.
Apart from a cross/shot from Rose that Zeng did well to tip over and plenty of shoving and kicking and falling over, not much happened for the rest of the half. The game took on a very different complexion after the break though, with Guangzhou coming out their usual revitalised selves, Zhang Linpeng and Muriqui in particular stepping up a gear. A spectacular sideways scissor kick from Gao Lin two minutes in was pushed over, and five minutes later Muriqui flashed the ball cross the face of the box but Zwaanswijk (taking a break from bullying Barrios) got there before any red shirts could.
While the visitors had started to look like the vastly more expensive team that they were, Mariners were still able to hold their own. McBreen had the most notable opportunities, the best in the 67th minute when he struck low and Zeng only just saved with his falling backside. Most of the better chances were going Guangzhou’s way though, and most of those involved Muriqui, who was giving right-back Bojic a torrid time. A smart backflick with his heel hit the base of the post in the 71st minute, and five minutes later he got the goal he deserved; a ball forward from Conca was miscontrolled by Gao but bounced fortunately into the path of Muriqui, who took one touch and scooped it around the keeper with aplomb.
Mariners went straight back on the attack, but Zhang was alert enough to prevent any immediate harm and soon it was Guangzhou looking the more dangerous again, with Ryan saving a decent Barrios header and a one-on-one with Muriqui. By this stage Huang Bowen had replaced Zhao Xuri and in the 84th minute he stupidly got himself booked for an unecessary professional foul on McBreen. The Australian side made one last push for an equaliser, with first Zwaanswijk trying for a memento from his final home appearance before retirement, and then Zeng pulling off an excellent save from a point-blank Duke shot.
In the end, their efforts weren’t enough for a point and the game petered out with Guangzhou holding the ball in defence and the Mariners apparently too bushed make much of an effort at getting it off them. It’s difficult to see Guangzhou failing to advance after this result; Mariners chances of scoring two without reply at Tianhe next Wednesday seem slim indeed.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 10 Zheng Zhi, 37 Zhao Xuri , 15 Conca; 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin, 18 Barrios
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 16 Huang Bowen (for Zhao Xuri 73′), 4 Zhao Peng (for Gao Lin 85′), 3 Yi Teng, 7 Feng Junyang, 14 Feng Renliang, 33 Rong Hao
Central Coast Mariners: 1 Ryan; 3 Rose, 6 Zwaanswijk, 5 Anderson, 4 Bojic; 7 Hutchinson, 18 Montgomery, 14 McGlinchey, 9 Ibini, 2 McBreen; 19 Duke
Subs: 20 Pasfield, 29 Fitzgerald (for Ibini-Isei 79′), 11 Bozanic (for Montgomery 82′), 8 Pellegrino, 15 McDonald, 17 Caceres, 21 Sterjovski
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