Seoul: Guangzhou Evergrande took a huge step towards handing China a first continental title in 23 years despite Dejan Damjanovic’s late strike rescuing Korean counterparts FC Seoul a 2-2 draw in Saturday’s AFC Champions League final first leg.
Sergio Escudero’s 11th minute strike had handed Korean champions FC Seoul the ideal start in front of a lively 55,501 crowd at Seoul World Cup Stadium only for Elkeson’s fifth goal in as many AFC Champions League games to level the score 16 minutes before half-time.
China international Gao Lin then added to the Brazilian’s header a minute before the hour mark, and despite Montenegrin striker Damjanovic equalising with seven minutes remaining, Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou head into next month’s second leg in pole position as they try to follow in the footsteps of 1990 Asian Club Championship winners Liaoning.
Having secured Chinese representation in the continental final for the first time since Dalian Wanda lost the 1998 Asian Club Championship decider to Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers, Guangzhou came close to a breakthrough after eight minutes as Dario Conca’s shot was palmed back out towards the penalty spot only for Huang Bowen to blaze over the crossbar.
But just two minutes later FC Seoul took the lead as Guangzhou’s defence failed to deal with a quickly taken free-kick and Escudero held off Feng Xiaoting before coolly beating goalkeeper Zeng Cheng with a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
Guangzhou looked to make an instant response and Gao registered the visitors’ first shot on target after 20 minutes as the China international saw his angled strike from inside the area kicked away by alert FC Seoul custodian Kim Yong-dae before Brazilian striker Elkeson fired over from Zhang Linpeng’s cross.
But Guangzhou were back on level terms 16 minutes before half-time as Huang’s left wing corner was met by the unmarked Elkeson and the Brazilian’s downward header from the edge of the six yard area gave Kim little chance despite a despairing dive from the FC Seoul goalkeeper.
The visitors finished the first half strongly and almost completed the comeback in stoppage time as Kim had to be on his toes to push a rising strike from Conca away at his near post.
FC Seoul striker Damjanovic warmed the gloves of Guangzhou goalkeeper Zeng seven minutes into the second half as the home side started brightly.
But a minute before the hour mark, Guangzhou took the lead as FC Seoul’s defence failed to fully clear the danger inside their penalty area and Sun’s low drilled cross was diverted into the back of the net at the near post by Gao.
Damjanovic again went close for FC Seoul after 66 minutes only to be denied by a brave last-ditch block by Sun before Koh Myong-jin fired into the side netting.
Guangzhou, though, should have added a third with seven minutes remaining as Elkeson fired a tame effort straight at Kim from a promising position.
And FC Seoul took full advantage less than a minute later as substitute Yun Il-lok found Escudero in space on the left and the Japanese strikers’ cut back found Damjanovic, who calmly swept the ball past Zeng from inside the area.