For the second time in the space of just a few days, Gao Lin was the hero for Guangzhou Evergrande, grabbing a brace in a contentious 3-1 victory over Jeonbuk Motors at Tianhe Stadium.
AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND 3
Guangzhou Evergrande 3
Gao Lin 18′ 21′, Liao Lisheng 61′
Jeonbuk Motors 1
Lee Dong-Gook 39′
Gao, who was in inspired form from the start, scored twice in the opening period of the match to put the reigning champions in a commanding position. Jeonbuk, though, were not to be defeated that easily and soon hit back through Lee Dong-Gook.
Early in the second-half, the game was hit by a moment of controversy as Jung In-Hwan saw a seemingly legitimate goal disallowed after hesitancy in the Evergrande defence. The game was soon put beyond doubt, though, as young midfielder Liao Lisheng grabbed his first goal in an Evergrande shirt with a smart header on the hour mark.
The game had started with confusion, with coach Marcello Lippi forced into two late changes after both Muriqui and Zhao Xuri saw ongoing calf injuries flare up during the pre-match warm-up. Increasingly popular local midfielder Liao Lisheng and forward Gao Lin were drafted in from the substitutes’ bench, with both going on to have a major impact on the game.
Indeed, it was the lucky duo who combined for Evergrande’s first goal on the night. Liao was the instigator, sneaking in behind the Jeonbuk defence on the right before crossing low across the face of goal. Gao, who was omnipresent in the opening minutes of the encounter, came steaming in to finish.
Three minutes later and the striker had a second. This time it was the excellent work of full-back Zhang Linpeng that was largely responsible, once more from the Evergrande right. Picking up the ball, Zhang showed pace and skill to square up his marker and beat him on the outside before lofting a clever cross to the far post. Gao’s looping header was equally impressive and sailed back across goal into the far corner.
Evergrande’s dominance continued for a further ten minutes after the goals, but Jeonbuk gradually brought themselves back into the game before earning their reward minutes before the interval. A cross to the far-post saw Lee Dong-Gook rise above Zhang Linpeng to head towards goal, only for the ball to rebound off the woodwork. Lee, the top-scorer in AFC Champions League history was the quickest to respond and finished well from a tight angle.
The poise of the opening minutes was lost and, once more at the start of this 2014 season, the Cantonese side lost control of the midfield for a spell in the middle of the game. They were almost punished after the break after conceding a free-kick on the right which, after a clever flick-on from Alex Wilkinson, was headed home by Jung In-Hwan as Zhang Linpeng and Zeng Cheng simply stood and waited for each other to deal with the situation. Astonishingly, though, Evergrande were handed a reprieve by the referee who signalled a free-kick for a foul that even replays have failed to identify.
The let-off was to be a turning point, with Evergrande quickly regaining composure before ending the game as a contest with a third minutes later. Elkeson’s poked pass found the subdued Alessandro Diamanti wide on the right, before the Italian cut in and placed a pinpoint cross into the near-post area where 20-year-old Liao Lisheng was lurking. The Jieyang-born midfielder made no mistake with his header to claim his first goal for the club, giving the fans reason for widespread celebration as their new local idol capped a strong individual performance.
In the final minutes of the encounter Gao had the opportunity to seal what would have been a memorable hat-trick, having broken through the ragged Jeonbuk defence. Unselfishly, though, he opted to square the ball to teammate Elkeson whose current lack of confidence was clear in his hesitant finish. A fourth goal, though, would have been harsh on Jeonbuk, who will feel harshly treated by the Omani referee, who made a number of poor decisions on the night.
At the midpoint of the Group Stage, then, Evergrande sit atop of Group G with seven points to their name from their opening three games. In a fortnight’s time they will travel to Jeonju for the return leg, with a victory set to virtually guarantee progression to the Last 16 with two games to spare.
GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE: Zeng Cheng; Zhang Linpeng, Kim Young-Gwon, Feng Xiaoting (Mei Fang 46’), Sun Xiang; Liao Lisheng, Zheng Zhi, Huang Bowen; Diamanti, Gao Lin, Elkeson.
JEONBUK MOTORS: Choi Eun-Seong; Kim Ki-Kee, Jung In-Hwan, Wilkinson, Park Won-Jae (Lee Jae-Myung 46’); Kim Nam-Il, Hyuk Jung, Lee Seung-Ki; Han Gyon-Won (Leonardo 70’), Lee Jae-Seong (Kaio 62’); Lee Dong-Gook.
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