Guangzhou Evergrande secured a convincing 4-1 away win at Qatari side Lekhwiya on Wednesday night to seal a 6-1 victory on aggregate in the AFC Champions League, earning a semifinal clash with Kashiwa Reysol.
The Cantonese side started cautiously in the oppressive heat of West Asia, but found their feet after two goals in the opening quarter of an hour from free-kicks. First, a Dario Conca front-post cross evaded everyone to find the back of the net, before Elkeson curled home a stunning strike from 25-yards.
Muriqui added a third just after the half-hour mark, thanks to a delightful through-ball from Elkeson and while Lekhwiya were able to pull a goal back early in the second-half, as a shot deflected past the helpless Zeng Cheng, Elkeson eventually restored the three goal lead in the 77th minute to see Evergrande progress comfortably.
Marcello Lippi sent his side out for the game in a formation that has been seldom used this season, with Dario Conca occupying a false nine role at the centre of the attack.
It is an option that was trialled briefly late in a Group Stage fixture earlier in the year, but worked well on this occasion—allowing inside forwards Elkeson and Muriqui to push ahead of the Argentine when cutting in from their flanks.
While largely in control of possession, Evergrande were disciplined in the opening minutes and were unwilling to commit too many numbers forward to support the attack. Conca’s in-swinging free-kick from near the corner flag on the right, though, saw Evergrande seal an away goal after 14 minutes that put them in complete control of the game.
Elkeson added his first moments later and from that point onwards, the Chinese side were in complete control. Huang Bowen and Zhao Xuri provided an effective defensive shield, allowing Zheng Zhi to push on and support Conca in attack.
The next goal would be made in Brazil, however, as Elkeson pushed forward on the counter attack and picked out the arching run of Muriqui from the left-flank, with the Champions League top-scorer smashing home a low shot from the edge of the area to open up a three-goal cushion.
Lekhwiya almost hit back immediately as a deflected shot struck the crossbar with Zeng Cheng stranded, before two follow-up headed efforts also rebounded off the bar with the goal gaping. It was not to be their night and, while Nam Tae-Hee’s deflected effort flew past Zeng five minutes into the second half, they never truly looked like threatening.
Elkeson rounded off the victory late on, turning home Gao Lin’s excellent low cross at the back-post to send Evergrande’s vocal travelling support into raptures and secure a place in the semifinal.
Guangzhou Evergrande: Zeng Cheng; Rong Hao, Zhang Linpeng, Kim Young-Gwon, Sun Xiang (Zhao Peng 62′); Zhao Xuri, Huang Bowen (Qin Sheng 54′), Zheng Zhi; Muriqui (Gao Lin 73′), Elkeson, Conca.
Lekhwiya: Lecomte; Traore, Musa, Muftah (Arif 31′), Boudiaf; Nam Tae-Hee, Luiz Ceara (Shehab 74′), Ismaeel, Kangambu; Msakni (Al Khalfan 68′); Soria.
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