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Elkeson: There’s still all to play for

Guangzhou: A scoreless draw at home to Kashima Antlers may not have been the result Elkeson had hoped for on his AFC Champions League homecoming for Guangzhou Evergrande, but he remains upbeat on his side’s chances of reaching the semi-finals. 

While Elkeson has starred for the Guangdong club in the Chinese Super League since returning following a three-and-a-half year stint with Shanghai SIPG, the first leg of the quarter-final against the holders on Wednesday was his first game back on the Continent. 

But, after an entertaining first half in front of a sea of red at Tianhe Stadium, the game petered out somewhat after the interval as Guangzhou failed to record a victory at home for the first time this campaign and the Brazil-born forward endured a quiet night.

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“Kashima obviously defended really well tonight and it showed that they are a very strong team,” said Elkeson.

“It was unfortunate that we could only draw, but there's still all to play for in the second leg in Japan.

“It was definitely important not to let them get an away goal, of course, but we can't say that we're happy with the result as we really wanted to win in front of our fans.”

Quarter-final - 1st Leg: Guangzhou Evergrande vs Kashima Antlers

Much of the pre-match talk had centred around Elkeson, who had also recently been granted Chinese citizenship and then called up to the national team squad for next month’s Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

The last time he appeared for Guangzhou in the AFC Champions League, meanwhile, was the 2015 final, when he scored the only goal of the game at Tianhe Stadium to claim a 1-0 win over the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ahli as his side were crowned kings of Asia. 

In the time the forward was away, Guangzhou never made it beyond the quarter-finals and the hope remains that he can help inspire them to the latter stages once more.

However, Elkeson fluffed his lines when a rare opportunity came his way midway through the second half, while it was Talisca who posed the biggest threat, testing Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae in each half and producing a performance full of energy in the centre of the park. 

The goals were not forthcoming, though, as Guangzhou were unable to replicate the free-scoring form that has seen them open up a commanding lead at the top of the Chinese Super League.

“Before we played this match, we did think about how we had been playing in the CSL and wanted to replicate those performances tonight,” admitted Elkeson.

“But, you know, in the AFC Champions League – especially at this stage of the competition – all the teams are very tough and matches are not easy. Kashima are the defending champions and are a very good side.”

Indeed, the visitors could have come away from southern China with an even better result had Ryohei Shirasaki’s effort from distance in the dying moments been several inches lower.

As it was, the ball clipped the bar on the way over and the sides will start the return meeting at Kashima Soccer Stadium on September 18 with nothing to separate them.

“There are three weeks now until the second leg, so we need to use that time to practice and prepare well for the match,” added Elkeson. 

“Hopefully, we can get the result we need as the away side at Kashima. We will try our best to win.”

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