Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 Al-Ahly
FIFA Club World Cup Quarter-final
Elkeson 49′, Conca 67′
In their first appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup, Guangzhou Evergrande defeated Egyptian giants Al Ahly 2-0 to set up a semi-final encounter against European champions Bayern Munich.
The African Club of the Century were making their fifth appearance in this competition and, having triumphed in Africa’s continental club competition in 2012 and 2013, their second consecutive one. Remarkably, they had managed this despite political upheaval leaving competitive domestic football suspended for most of the past two years.
The battle-hardened side lacked match fitness, but hoped their greater experience and strength of character, as well as the support of the Moroccan crowd, would give them the edge over their neophyte opponents. If they had taken advantage of the Guangzhou defense’s early nerves it might have been a different story, but as it was Elkeson and Conca tapped home a pair of blocked Muriqui shots in the second half to give the Asian side a deserved victory.
The Cantonese team, sporting little Chinese flags on the front of their yellow shirts (in case anyone might not have heard which country they came from), controlled the early stages of the game. An Elkeson header shortly after kick-off just missed the top-left corner of the net, and he shot narrowly wide again after being set up in the box by Gao Lin 15 minutes later, but the Egyptians had the clearest chance of the half in the opening five minutes.
The Evergrande defence were casually passing the ball around their area when goalkeeper Zeng Cheng mishit and gifted it to Moteab. His lob found legendary forward Aboutrika, making his last appearance for Al Ahly before retirement, in clear space in front of goal. If he had sent it on target he would have broken clear of Messi and Denilson to become all-time Club World Cup top scorer with five, but despite being virtually unchallenged was unable to keep his header below the crossbar.
It was one of a number of early errors by the normally reliable Zeng, and with the men in front of him also looking less sure of themselves than usual, the North Africans increased in confidence. From looking dangerous on the counter, they became the ones applying the more pressure, but although they had Guangzhou pinned back for much of the remainder of the half there was little in the way of scoring opportunities.
At the break, the African Champions were dealt a hammer-blow as they were forced to replace their injured talisman Aboutrika with Mauritanian Da Silva (the only non-Egyptian in the squad). This forced a shuffle in Al Ahly’s set-up, and their opponents took full advantage. On top from the restart, Evergrande opened the scoring in the 49th minute, when Muriqui took a Gao Lin through ball around goalkeeper Ekramy. Fathy managed to block the resulting shot off the goal-line, but couldn’t prevent Elkeson from knocking in the rebound.
Three minutes later, Muriqui was set free by a Conca ball over the backline, but the shot went wide. Passes to the mercurial Brazilian through the heart of defense were proving hugely troublesome for the Egyptians, and the second goal at the midway point of the half came from the same source; Zheng Zhi sent Muriqui on a great run at the box and although Ekramy blocked his shot, he could only parry it into the path of the onrushing Conca.
Al Ahly huffed and puffed in response, but never looked convincing in attack, with a Rabia header from a corner that that landed on the top of the net probably being their best chance of the half. El-Said did hit the crossbar in the 79th minute from a long range screamer, but that was the only of their many pot shots from distance that looked threatening; despite finishing the game with more possession and almost twice as many shots as the Chinese side, the result had never really been in doubt from the opening goal. Indeed Guangzhou could have added more, with Zhang Linpeng hitting the post in the final stages.
This performance and victory will have the Asian champions feeling confident of their abilities as they face the biggest test imaginable of their development under Lippi. The game against Bayern Munich will take place at 19:30 local time next Tuesday evening (3:30 Wednesday morning in China) and again will be played at Stade Adrar in Agadir, hopefully in front of more people than the paltry number who showed up for this fixture. Few Chinese football fans will expect progression to the final, but a better performance than that which saw them lose 7-1 at home to Real Madrid in a friendly two years ago would be much appreciated.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Conca; 29 Gao Lin, 11 Muriqui, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 33 Rong Hao (for 29 Gao Lin 63′), 37 Zhao Xuri (for 32 Sun Xiang 79′)
Al Ahly: 1 Sherif Ekramy; 24 Ahmed Fathy, 20 Saad Samir, 23 Mohamed Nagieb, 12 Ahmed Shedid Qinawi; 3 Rami Rabia, 25 Hossam Ashour; 19 Abdallah El-Said, 11 Walid Soliman, 22 Mohamed Aboutrika; 9 Emad Moteab
Subs: 26 Dominique Da Silva (for 22 Mohamed Aboutrika 46′), 18 Elsayed Hamdi (for 9 Emad Moteab 64′), 27 ‘Trezeguet’ (for 25 Hossam Ashour 78′)
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