Preview - Quarter-final: Guangzhou Evergrande FC (CHN) vs Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Guangzhou: A clash of Continental heavyweights will take place at the Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday as Guangzhou Evergrande host Kashima Antlers in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
Between them, the sides have won three of the past six editions of the competition with two-time winners Guangzhou lifting the trophy in 2013 and 2015 and the J.League club Kashima being crowned champions in November last year.
The match also marks a repeat of the 2017 Round of 16 match-up which the Chinese side edged on away goals following a narrow 1-0 win at home and a 2-1 loss in Japan.
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Fabio Cannavaro’s side have produced contrasting results thus far, with home form differing dramatically to that seen on the road, something that was evident as early as their opening two games – a 2-0 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Tianhe Stadium and a 3-1 loss to debutants Daegu FC in Korea Republic.
Melbourne Victory were then seen off 4-0 in Guangdong but gained their only point of the campaign in a 1-1 draw in Australia, before Guangzhou suffered a 1-0 defeat in Hiroshima to leave them needing a victory in their final Group F game against Daegu.
Paulinho proved the hero, though, as his deflected effort found the back of the net to secure a 1-0 win and progression. Domestic rivals Shandong Luneng then awaited in the last 16, where Wei Shihao was on the scoresheet in a 2-1 first-leg win in Guangzhou.
A thrilling encounter ensued in Jinan as Shandong recovered from Paulinho’s early goal to go 2-1 up and force extra-time before the hosts opened up a 3-1 lead. A superb Paulinho free-kick took the game to penalties and the two-time champions scraped through by the narrowest of margins following a 6-5 victory.
Paulinho came up with the goods when it has mattered most, with his two goals in the last 16 helping Guangzhou return to the quarter-finals after missing out last year and the Brazilian’s big-game experience will be crucial in the latter stages of the competition.
The 31-year-old will welcome the return of his countryman Talisca, who has been out injured since Matchday Four, while the biggest story in the summer months in Guangzhou has been Elkeson's re-signing from Shanghai SIPG. The 30-year-old previously won a pair of AFC Champions League titles with the club and completes what on paper appears a formidable trio.
Kashima began the defence of their title with a 2-1 victory over Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in Group E before four points in away games with Shandong and Korea Republic’s Gyeongnam FC meant they were looking good at the midway stage.
But back-to-back losses to Gyeongnam and JDT meant qualification was suddenly on the line and it took a second-half brace from Sho Ito to claw back a 1-0 deficit against Shandong and ultimately seal a 2-1 win and a place in the last 16.
Domestic rivals Sanfrecce were next up and Serginho scored the only goal of the game in the first leg at Kashima Soccer Stadium, before Shoma Doi’s first-half strike in Hiroshima gave the holders a 2-0 aggregate lead.
Sanfrecce fought back after the interval and went 2-1 up to leave the contest on a knife edge before Doi netted a crucial second away goal a minute from time and, although the hosts added another, it was Kashima who progressed on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate score.
With six goals in eight knockout round matches since the 2018 quarter-finals, Serginho has been pivotal to Kashima's recent success on the Continent and the Ibaraki side will again look towards the 24-year-old for inspiration at Tianhe Stadium.
Fellow Brazilian Leo Silva faces a huge battle against Paulinho in the centre of the park that could shape the outcome of the contest, while Doi scored two and made one of Kashima’s three goals in the last 16 and the one-club man is another with plenty of responsibility upon his shoulders.
Guangzhou Evergrande vs Kashima Antlers
Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Kick-off: August 28, 20:00 UTC+8
Photos: AFC & AFP
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