Guangzhou Evergrande 4-2 Melbourne Victory
Asian Champions League Group Stage Round One
Contreras 35’, Broxham 40’; Huang Bowen 58’, Diamanti 64’, 84’, Elkeson 70’
In an astonishing curtain-raiser to the defense of their ACL crown, Guangzhou Evergrande came from two goals down at half-time to crush Melbourne Victory 4-2. New arrival Alessandro Diamanti scored a brace on his debut as Evergrande became the only Chinese side to open their 2014 continental campaign with a win.
At the break though, a resounding victory was not what the fans at Tianhe were expecting. Despite lining up at full strength and in their regular 4-3-3, with the return of Feng Xiaoting being the only change from last week’s friendly against Qingdao Hainiu, the champions looked insipid and uninspired for much of the first half. Chances were had but most were ballooned well over, often by the particularly unimpressive Gao Lin.
Melbourne in contrast looked every inch a side well settled into the rhythm of their season. Tight and organised in defense, they countered well and looked the equal of their more illustrious opponents. Both of their goals came in the last ten minutes of the half and resulted from set-pieces.
First Kim Young-Gwon sloppily played half of the Melbourne team onside, leaving Contreras to score with a simple tap-in after Zeng Cheng had parried a Barbarouses strike from the edge of the box. Their second came five minutes later in remarkably similar fashion, except this time Zeng was unable to reach Broxham’s excellent volley. The home side went in two goals down at the break for the first time since their Super Cup loss to Jiangsu Sainty almost a year ago.
The restart brought a hugely surprising substitution, as out-of-sorts Muriqui (who later explained he was suffering from a niggling injury) made way for youngster Liao Lisheng, making only his second ever appearance for the club since joining in late 2012. Zheng Zhi moved into the centre of defense while Liao replaced him in the middle of the pitch. Sun Xiang and Zhang Linpeng pushed up on the wings, and Diamanti took on a more attacking role in Muriqui’s absence.
The rejig worked wonders, though the away side’s decision to sit back on their lead also helped Evergrande. They tore into Melbourne from the off, and Contreras had to clear a Diamanti free-kick off the line just a couple of minutes in. The Italian international was involved in the build-up to Guangzhou’s first just before the hour mark, finished by a low drive into the corner from Huang Bowen, and scored the second himself a few minutes later, a spectacular blast from distance that Coe allowed to go right through his hands.
Liao was also impressive, and provided the probing assist for Elkeson to give the Cantonese side the lead with a sweet strike in the seventieth minute; his performance gave ample reason to doubt the initial suspicion that he was introduced merely to meet owner Xu Jiayin’s desire for greater youth involvement, as expressed in the overhauled bonus system. Diamanti then capped a superb all-round performance five minutes from time when he dragged the ball past Contreras in the box and slotted home.
Melbourne Victory can count themselves somewhat unlucky to have left without a point, but Evergrande have long been very much a second-half team and simply overwhelmed their opponents after the break. Between this and last week’s friendly, it seems Diamanti has more impact up front than in the Conca role, and it would be no surprise if the coming weeks brought changes in the champion’s default set-up to accommodate this.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 32 Sun Xiang, 28 Kim Young-Gwon, 6 Feng Xiaoting, 5 Zhang Linpeng; 10 Zheng Zhi, 16 Huang Bowen, 15 Diamanti; 29 Gao Lin, 11 Muriqui, 9 Elkeson
Subs: 2 Liao Lisheng (for 11 Muriqui 46’), 33 Rong Hao (for 29 Gao Lin 79’), 3 Mei Fang (for 15 Diamanti 87’)
Melbourne Victory: 1 Coe; 3 Traore, 2 Contreras, 4 Ansell, 25 Geria; 22 Makarounas, 6 Broxham, 5 Milligan, 14 Troisi; 9 Barbarouses, 10 Thompson
Subs: 16 Mahazi (for 25 Geria 66’), 11 Pain (for 10 Thompson 75’), 13 Nabbout (for 9 Barbarouses 85’)
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