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Li Shenglong stars as Shanghai SIPG defeat Sydney FC in AFC Champions League opener

Doha: A brace of second-half Li Shenglong headers helped Shanghai SIPG come from behind to defeat Sydney FC 2-1 at Khalifa International Stadium in Group H of the 2020 AFC Champions League on Thursday.

Shanghai SIPG were coming into their campaign opener against an FC Sydney side they had played twice and drew on both occasions last term, while Steve Corica’s men had collected one point from two games in the competition and were in desperate need for a victory to stay in contention.

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Sydney FC came racing out of the blocks and within five minutes they had their first big break. A Paulo Retre though ball found Trent Buhagiar free down the right flank and he squared for Kosta Barbarouses who had the goal at his mercy with the Shanghai SIPG defenders left chasing shadows, but the Sydney FC number 11 fluffed his lines, squandering the chance for an early opener.

Barbarouses was presented with the chance to make amends three minutes later when goalkeeper Thomas Heward-Belle sent a long ball for Buhagiar who nodded it into the path of Barbarouses who showed impeccable awareness to find his teammate with the return pass. Buhagiar took it first-time, sending a left-footed effort into the top corner to open the scoring for Sydney FC.

The Australian dominance at Khalifa International Stadium continued and just before the quarter-hour mark, Shanghai SIPG goalkeeper Chen Wei was beaten again as an Alexander Baumjohann corner was headed goalward by Benjamin Warland, but the Sydney FC defender watched his effort cannon off the post before Retre sent the rebound wide.

Shanghai SIPG were made to wait until the 30-minute mark to get their first real chance of the game when Gu Huan crossed for Li whose header narrowly missed the target.

Sydney FC continued to enjoy the bulk of possession in the opening minutes of the second half and Barbarouses nearly doubled his side’s tally 10 minutes after the restart after being set up by a Rhyan Grant header, but the New Zealander international could not find the target with his point-blank header.

It was Vitor Perreira’s Shanghai SIPG who found the back of the net instead. With 63 minutes on the clock, Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy took advantage of a quickly taken set-piece down the right and delivered a pinpoint cross catching the Sydney FC defence napping and finding Li who was left to pick his spot with a free-header, driving home the leveler.

With just 11 minutes to go, Li popped up in space inside the box once more, getting on the end of a whipped cross from substitute Yu Hai from the left to send a diving header in off the upright, leaving goalkeeper Heward-Belle rooted to the spot.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper’s night went from bad to worse as he was sent-off in added time for handing the ball outside the box, leaving Grant to fill in between the sticks as Sydney FC had already used up all their substitutions.

The three points in their first game of the 2020 AFC Champions League sends Shanghai SIPG to second place in the group ahead of Sunday’s clash with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Sydney FC, meanwhile, are left teetering with their hopes of qualification largely dependent on getting a result against the Korea Republic side on Wednesday.

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