Guangzhou: Guangzhou Evergrande cemented their position at the top of Group F of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday as Marcello Lippi’s side handed Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United a comprehensive 4-0 defeat at Tianhe Stadium.
Dario Conca scored twice - including from the penalty spot in stoppage time - while Muriqui (Luiz Guilherme da Conceição Silva) and Gao Lin were also on the scoresheet as the Chinese Super League champions maintained their unbeaten start to the 2013 campaign, securing a second win that moves them on to seven points from three games.
That leaves Guangzhou two points clear of Jeonbuk Motors as the Group Stage reaches the halfway point, with Urawa Reds in third with three points and Muangthong at the bottom of the group with just one point, but Lippi is not taking progress to the Round of 16 for granted.
“This was a difficult game and our opponents put up a good fight,” said Guangzhou’s World Cup and UEFA Champions League-winning coach. “We were not good enough in the first half and the players were playing too narrowly. We did well in the second half, though, and won.
“There are still many uncertainties regarding final qualification from the group. I am a bit surprised to hear that Jeonbuk beat Urawa in an away game, so it’s still too early to tell who will qualify. We have to be careful.
“What I did during the break was to correct my players' faults from the first half. Like I said, they didn’t played with great vision, and the attacking was all in the middle. So I told them to broaden the attacking line and create space.
“I never expected that we would score four goals in the second half. But I did think we would have goals. The next match will be a very tough away game. It’s always tough to play at another team’s home.”
Guangzhou held the upper hand throughout the 90 minutes but struggled to find a way past the Thai side’s defence in the opening period.
Zhang Linpeng saw his fourth minute header cleared off the line by Phichitphong Choeichiu while Lucas Barrios’ header found the woodwork rather than the back of the net 22 minutes later.
Guangzhou’s aerial approach was causing Muangthong problems, but the Chinese side were unable to turn the threat into goals in the opening 45 minutes as Gao was again denied, this time seeing his effort blocked by Weera Koedpudsa after a cross from Conca.
The Thais rarely threatened, with Sarawut Masuk going closest when he was played in behind the home defence, clipping the ball beyond Zeng Cheng but wide of the target.Barrios’ long-range effort in first-half stoppage time was just wide of Weera’s goal while Zeng at the other end was called upon to push Jakkapan Pornsai’s shot over the bar.
Conca finally found a way past Weera six minutes into the second half after Gao powered down the right before pulling his cross back towards the unmarked Argentinian, and his downward header eventually nestled in the net.
Seven minutes later, Muriqui (pictured) doubled his side’s advantage. The Brazilian received a return pass from Barrios that left Muriqui bearing down on goal and his assured right-foot finish left Weera with little hope.
Guangzhou went on cruise control as time ran down however, with seven minutes to go, Lippi’s side secured the third goal their dominance deserved when Gao was released behind the Muangthong defence by Muriqui and he finished with aplomb.
Muangthong could have claimed a consolation moments later, but Teerasil Dangda’s header came back off the woodwork but Conca struck from the penalty spot in stoppage time to seal an emphatic win for Guangzhou Evergrande.
“Guangzhou were stronger than we thought,” said Muangthong head coach Slavisa Jokanovic. “We created some good chances in the first half, but made some mistakes in the second half and they grabbed their chances in the second half.”