AFC Club of the Year 2015: Guangzhou Evergrande
New Delhi: Securing Asia’s premier club tournament for the second time in three years has earned 2015 AFC Champions League winners Guangzhou Evergrande the AFC Club of the Year Award ahead of ACL runners-up Al Ahli and Johor Darul Ta’zim, who made history as the first ever Malaysian winners of the AFC Cup.
The Chinese powerhouse, who secured a fifth successive CSL (Chinese Super League) title in their last domestic fixture ahead of the first leg of the 2015 ACL final, followed up their 2013 continental success with a 1-0 aggregate defeat of Al Ahli of the UAE in what was a thrilling conclusion to the year’s AFC competitions.
Guangzhou progressed to the Knockout Stage of the 2015 ACL by topping their group ahead of FC Seoul, with defending champions and 2014 AFC Club of the Year Western Sydney Wanderers, who defeated the Chinese giants on route to continental glory in last year’s competition, missing the cut.
After overturning a first-leg deficit to defeat 2010 ACL champions Seongnam 3-2 in the Round of 16, Guangzhou set up a semi-final showdown with another former continental champion Gamba Osaka following a confident 4-2 aggregate win over Gamba’s Japanese compatriots Kashiwa Reysol.
A 2-1 home win followed by a well-earned goalless draw in Osaka saw Guangzhou eliminate the 2008 champions to book their place in the final.
They then recorded a second successive stalemate on the road as the first leg of the tournament decider against Al Ahli ended 0-0, before Elkeson’s solitary strike in the return fixture at the Tianhe Stadium saw skipper Zheng Zhi presented the coveted AFC Champions League trophy for a second time.