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Advantage Evergrande after win in ACL Quarter-Final home leg

Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 Lekhwiya

AFC Champions League Quarter Final First Leg

Conca 72′ (pen.), Elkeson 76′

Evergrande will revisit Arabia next month with a two goal advantage in this tie after a tense, tight, and often compact game was settled in a five-minute burst late in the second half.

The Qatari side had kept the game at stalemate for well over an hour thanks to a combination of heavy pressure on the home side’s South American contingent and the profligacy of their opponent’s frontline. In the end though, a Conca penalty and a wonderful Elkeson strike left them with an enormous task to face in the upcoming second leg of this Asian Champions League quarter-final.

Elkeson’s ACL debut after replacing the departed (and unlamented) Barrios had been much-anticipated by the near-capacity crowd, but otherwise Guangzhou’s line-up was as standard for this competition. Commendably, Lekhwiya started with just three of the competition’s allocated four ‘foreign’ slots on the field filled, surely indicating Qatari soccer’s determination to develop local footballing talent ahead of their well-deserved hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

The game got underway with a flurry of attacks from the home side, mostly up the right, the hosts perhaps intimidated by Congolese attacker Kangambu’s presence on the other side of the away defense. Unfortunately Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin’s attempts at ball-control in the face of aggressive defending were often lacking, and none of the forays amounted to much. With their constant harassment of Evergrande’s attacking players, the Qataris managed to ride the initial storm and thereafter mostly kept a lid on the Guangzhou offense until the break.

Lekhwiya did get put somewhat on the back foot when their French centre-back Traoré was booked for dissent a quarter of an hour in, over what looked like a discussion with the ref about the authenticity of Elkeson’s reaction to a tackle. However even when the Chinese team used their dominance in possession to create decent chances they invariably sent them off target, with Muriqui’s 25th minute ballooning-over from only about ten yards out, central and clear, being a particularly unfortunate example.

Between the Cantonese side’s usual solid defence and their own gameplan, the visitors were entirely restricted to hopeful shots from outside the box throughout, mostly from South Korean international Tae Hee-Nam or Qatari striker Soria, and mostly easily enough dealt with.

Early in the second half the Arabian team’s other center half, Algerian Madjid Bougherra, found himself also in the referee’s notebook after contributing to one of Gao Lin’s trademark balletic leaps. The Chinese forward was by this stage rapidly tiring, and several voices in the crowd began to demand his removal from the action after a number of promising attacking moves broke down around him. Eventually they got their wish and he was benched for recent signing Zheng Long on 70 minutes, with Kuwaiti-Qatari Adel May replacing Tunisian wide-man Msakni for Lekhwiya at the same time.

Evergrande had looked more menacing from the restart, at least getting a couple of shots on target. Zhao Xuri’s substitution 64 minutes in for the more attack-minded Huang Bowen helped, but it wasn’t until Gao had been replaced that they made the breakthrough, when Qatari defender Muftah was judged to have brought down Conca in the box as he was chasing a flick-on from Kim.

It did look like a somewhat soft call, and Senegalese international Dia was booked for dissent in the aftermath of the decision, but there certainly seemed to be contact. You couldn’t ask for anyone better from a dead ball than the Argentinian maestro, and he duly stroked home the penalty.

Within a few minutes Elkeson had doubled the lead after finishing off a back-heeled one-two between himself and Conca with a powerful low shot that Moroccan goalkeeper Lecomte probably should have done better against. For a while it looked like more goals were to come as the Qatari’s midfield shield of Brazilian Luiz Ceará and Algerian Karim Boudiaff lost its repellent power. Conca and Muriqui both went very close before the away side regained their composure and managed to keep the scoreline at a respectable level until the final whistle.

After last year’s dismal experience in Saudi Arabia against Al-Ittihad, Guangzhou will surely be hopeful that this result is cushion enough to protect them against any untoward blows they may face on their return visit to the peninsula. I saw nothing in this contest to suggest that Lekhwiya are capable of scoring three or four goals against Evergrande without conceding a few themselves, but stranger things have happened in football.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 37 Zhao Xuri, 10 Zheng Zhi, 15 Conca; 11 Muriqui, 29 Gao Lin, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 22 Li Shuai, 16 Huang Bowen (for Zhao Xuri 64′), 12 Zheng Long (for Gao Lin 70′), 33 Rong Hao (for 87 Zheng Zhi′), 4 Zhao Peng, 7 Feng Junyang, 8 Qin Sheng

Lekhwiya: 40 Lecomte; 35 Muftah, 6 Traoré, 24 Bougherra, 14 Kangambu; 30 Luiz Ceará, 12 Karim Boudiaff, 28 Msakni, 70 Mohammad, 25 Tae Hee-Nam; 23 Soria
Subs: 33 Ali Hatimi, 30 Dia (for Mohammad 63′), 7 Lamy (for Msakni 70′), 8 Shehab (for Luiz Ceará 80′), 11 Al-Qahtani, 21 Adel Ahmad, 29 Diaby

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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