A second half goal from Elkeson was enough to see Guangzhou Evergrande crowned champions of Asia in a tense encounter at the Tianhe Stadium. The Brazilian striker’s 54th minute turn and finish was the only goal either side managed over a tightly fought 180 minutes of football.
AFC Champions’ League Final 2nd Leg
Guangzhou Evergrande 1
(1-0 on aggregate)
Al-Ahli’s quest for the equaliser that would have given them an away goals victory was severely damaged when Salmin Khamis got himself sent off midway through the second half for a reckless stamp on Zheng Long. But just as the centre back, who had to be dragged down the tunnel, wouldn’t go down without a fight, neither would the the Dubai based club whose willingness to push forward produced a grandstand finish.
At the end of a week where Chinese football has once again been the subject of endless criticism thanks to the national team’s dismal 0-0 draw with Hong Kong, this result will no doubt offer a fillip for the game in the country. But an Evergrande side who certainly had the better of thing over two legs, still needed a bit of Brazilian magic to secure their second continental crown in the space of three years.
2014’s Super League top scorer knocked a Zheng Long pass through Khamis’s leg and rifled the ball past Mahmoud in a way he did regularly last season. Elkeson’s 2015 has been disrupted by injury and he’s been overshadowed by Champions’s League top scorer Ricardo Goulart, but this goal was a reminder of how effective the 26-year-old can be.
Khamis may have still been reeling from the nutmeg when he walked over Zheng Long 13 minutes later, although the Evergrande winger certainly made the most of things by clutching onto his chest as though he was having a panic attack. The Al-Ahli defender lost his mind in the aftermath and had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the field to the tunnel by reserve goalkeeper Majed Naser.
Although the game’s major talking points came in in the second half, the first 45 minutes still provided its fair share of action as both sides went close to scoring. Evergrande had the majority of the play, but the visitors looked threatening on the break with Everton Ribeiro’s surging runs causing the Cantonese side particular problems.
The Brazilian shot wide in the sixth minute and twice powered through the centre of the Evergrande midfield to assist compatriot Lima. The first of Lima’s shots was blocked and the second produced a fine save from Zeng Cheng. That would be Zeng’s final meaningful contribution in the Evergrande goal as he turned his ankle while punching clear a cross and had to be replaced by Li Shuai in the 37th minute.
Evergrande had first half opportunities of their own, too. Ricardo Goulart, who was named player of the tournament in the post-match ceremony, had a close range shot blocked by goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud after fine work on the left wing from Elkeson, while Zheng Long went close to breaking the first half deadlock on two occasions. The first coming when he hooked a shot wide in the 27th minute and the second when he saw his header shoveled out for a corner by Mahmoud.
There was little second half penalty area action before Elkeson’s strike, but going into the lead woke up both the crowd and the players as things livened up. There was chaos in the Al-Ahli penalty area just a couple of minutes after the goal that led to midfielder Majed Hassan almost putting the ball into his own net. And Elkeson might have scored another 10 minutes after his first had his sliding effort not been blocked.
All looked lost for the visitors when they went down to ten men, but they didn’t give up. Former Liverpool winger Ossama Assaidi showed some nifty footwork to carve himself a shooting opportunity, but the second half substitute’s effort was always rising over the bar.
Al-Ahli’s best chance of breaking Evergrande hearts came in the 78th minute when Lima broke through to be one on one with Li Shuai. The substitute was able to block Lima’s initial shot and watched with relief as the ball ricocheted back off the striker and wide of the post.
Of course, with Cosmin Olaroiu’s men leaving themselves increasingly exposed, Evergrande also had plenty of opportunities to grab the decisive second and both sides went at each other in the closing stages in front of an increasingly raucous crowd. However, Evergrande’s victory was sealed when they successfully cleared Kwon Kyung Won’s long throw in the dying embers of stoppage time. It was a thrilling climax to what had been an otherwise cagey tie which proves that Evergrande are just about the best club side in Asia in 2015.
This was the Cantonese club’s 28th consecutive competitive game unbeaten and they proved to just have too much for their Middle Eastern opponents. Almost all of the 42,499 in attendance remained to salute their heroes at the end of the match and, whatever other difficulties Chinese football may be facing at the moment, they can, once again, proudly boast the club champions of Asia.
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