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Ronaldinho sees red, but late strike gives Brazilians third place

Guangzhou Evergrande 2-3 Atletico Mineiro

FIFA Club World Cup Third/Fourth Place Playoff

Muriqui 9′, Conca (p) 15′; Tardelli 2′, Ronaldinho 45′, Luan 90(+1)’

An exciting contest was settled by an injury time goal as Atletico Mineiro beat Guangzhou Evergrande 3-2 to claim third place in the 2013 World Club Cup. In doing so they avoided a lowest-ever finish by a Copa Libertadores winner in this competition, but were indebted to some generous refereeing in securing victory, despite Ronaldinho being sent off for retaliation late in the game.

While the Brazilians stuck with the line-up that had lost 3-1 to Raja Casablanca in their semi-final, forward Gao Lin came back into the Cantonese side in place of defensive midfielder Zhao Xuri, indicating that Lippi did not plan to revisit the ultra-defensive approach taken against the vastly superior Bayern Munich. In the only other change, Li Shuai took up the gloves in place of Zeng Cheng, who had become a father during that defeat.

Not even two minutes had passed before Guangzhou found themselves behind. Rocha sent a pinpoint cross over the unfocused Guangzhou defence, and Tardelli was well-positioned to strike home despite pressure from Zhang Linpeng. The Chinese team looked crestfallen, but the equaliser wasn’t long in coming.

Elkeson stole the ball after the opposition had dealt carelessly with a Victor goal kick and surged forward. His shot came off the crossbar, but Gao cleverly hooked it back into the box for former Mineiro loanee Muriqui to fire into the roof of the net.

Atletico piled on the pressure, but conceded again five minutes later. Gao ran onto a superb Zheng Zhi through ball and while Victor blocked his shot, it rebounded kindly. Lucas was rather less pleasant, dragging Gao down by the neck as he went for the ball. Conca, making his final appearance for Evergrande, coolly slotted away the resulting penalty.

With the Brazilian defence looking vulnerable, more Guangzhou goals seemed likely in the ensuing 75 minutes, but it was not to be. They had chances aplenty; Elkeson forced saves and hit the woodwork before surprisingly being replaced by Feng Junyan, and Conca fired over at close range early in the second half.

The referee’s reluctance to call for a second penalty was another factor in the result. When Muriqui was pulled down in the box shortly before half-time, you could argue that the AFC Foreign Player of the Year had done himself no favours by playing on for the shot, but there was no excuse for not pointing to the spot when Júnior Cesar (on for injured Lucas) hacked down Zhang ten minutes after the restart.

Leaving aside these dubious decisions, the game itself was a very even one, with Mineiro giving at least as good as they got. Tardelli hit the post and Kim had to clear a Ronaldinho shot off the line, but Li proved a very capable deputy for Zeng, with a number of excellent saves.

The equaliser when it came was from a set-piece. Victor had done very well to save a Conca free kick midway through the first half, and Li had matched him in stopping one from Ronaldinho a quarter of an hour later. But the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year made no mistake when given another chance on the cusp of half-time, though questions could be asked about Li and his wall’s positioning.

The old showman didn’t impress much otherwise, but secured his place in the headlines when he got sent off three minutes from time for sticking his studs into Zhao Xuri, who had just come on for Zheng. Having half an hour earlier smacked Feng Xiaoting in the face twice while shielding the ball, he was lucky to have lasted as long as he did.

kick

With extra time cancelled for the night, it looked in injury time like we were going straight to penalties, but then Luan ran clear of a very high Evergrande defensive line onto a Tardelli pass and had all the time he needed to carefully place the ball past Li. The substitute looked marginally offside to me, but it was a very close call.

There was still quite a bit of injury time left, enough for Guangzhou to be refused another clear penalty when Fernandinho fouled Conca, but not enough for them to find an equaliser. A closely fought game that could have gone either way, it was probably preferable to see it end like this than to be decided by the lottery of penalty kicks.

The big news after the game was confirmation that Shandong Luneng, the champion’s main rival in the CSL, had lured Atletico Mineiro’s manager Cuca to their club the day after sacking previous incumbent Radomir Antić. Given a three year contract, word has it that he will be bringing two of Mineiro’s players (possibly matchwinner Luan and defender Pierre) with him to complement Vagnar Love and Ryan McGowan in an overhauled foreign contingent.

With an already strong Chinese squad (though Evergrande are reportedly trying to woo key man Hao Junmin), it certainly looks like Shandong will be a capable of a more sustained challenge in the league next year than in 2013, when they fizzled out after a creditable draw at Tianhe in June. With Beijing Gouan also having recently fired a manager who had done all that was asked of him amid rumours of major investment, the 2014 CSL season promises to be a most intriguing one.

Guangzhou Evergrande: 22 Li Shuai; 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 32 Sun Xiang 64′), 7 Feng Junyan (for 9 Elkeson 77′), 37 Zhao Xuri (for 10 Zheng Zhi 85′)

Atletico Mineiro: 1 Victor; 5 Pierre, 3 Leonardo Silva, 4 Réver, 2 Marcos Rocha, 14 Lucas Cândido, 28 Josue, 9 Diego Tardelli, 11 Fernandinho, 10 Ronaldinho, 7 Jô
Subs: 6 Júnior Cesar (for 14 Lucas 33′), 27 Luan (for 7 Jo 60′), 8 Leandro Donizete (for 28 Josue 79′)

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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