Guangzhou: A quickfire double from South American duo Dario Conca and Elkeson inside the final 20 minutes saw Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande take a huge step towards a maiden AFC Champions League semi-final appearance after beating Qatar’s Lekhwiya 2-0 on Wednesday.
Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou dominated for long periods inside a boisterous Tianhe Sport Center but struggled to find a breakthrough with AFC Champions League leading scorer Muriqui (Luiz Guilherme da Conceição Silva) wasting the best chance for the home side midway through the first half.
But with 18 minutes remaining Conca coolly converted from the penalty spot before Elkeson (Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso) marked his AFC Champions League debut with a composed finish three minutes later to hand 2012 quarter-finalists Guangzhou the advantage ahead of the second leg in Doha on September 18.
Guangzhou took control of the quarter-final first leg from the first whistle with strikers Gao Lin and Elkeson (pictured) as well as full-back Zhang Linpeng coming close for the hosts inside the opening 15 minutes to the delight of another colourful capacity crowd, with Lekhwiya restricted to limited forays into the attacking third.
And the opening goal the crowd craved for appeared to have arrived after 25 minutes as Conca’s clever chipped pass found Zhang charging into space and the right backs low cross found Muriqui racing into the penalty area only for the Brazilian to inexplicably blaze over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
But despite Guangzhou’s dominance, it was Lekhwiya who registered the first shot on target four minutes later as Korean midfielder Nam Tae-hee tested goalkeeper Zeng Cheng with a low drive from just outside the area.
Guangzhou, though, continued to dominate although Lekhwiya goalkeeper Claude Amine remained untested as Gao and Conca both sent efforts skidding narrowly the wrong side of the visitors’ upright.
But with the last kick of the first half Guangzhou goalkeeper Zeng had to be on his toes to keep out a well-stuck effort from lone Lekhwiya striker Sebastian Soria at his near post.
Amine was finally tested on the hour mark as the Lekhwiya custodian made a superb point blank save to deny Conca with the Argentinian seemingly on course to break the deadlock after Elkeson had directed Sun Xiang’s cross into his path inside the six yard area.
But Amine could do nothing with 18 minutes remaining as Conca coolly sent the custodian the wrong way from the penalty spot after the Argentinian had been clumsily upended inside the area.
And just three minutes later Amine was beaten for a second time in quick succession as the Lekhwiya goalkeeper allowed Elkeson’s low strike to squirm under his body as the Brazilian added to the 20 goals he has scored in 21 Chinese Super League appearances this season.
A third almost arrived soon after as Muriqui skipped past Amine, but fortunately for Lekhwiya, the Brazilian lost his balance at the crucial moment and could only fire into the side netting.