Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Guangzhou: China’s Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League for the second time in three years as a goal from Brazilian striker Elkeson secured a 1-0 victory on aggregate over 10-men Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates in Saturday’s final second leg at Tianhe Sport Centre Stadium.
Having been on target in the 2013 final when Guangzhou defeated Korea Republic’s FC Seoul on away goals to claim a first continental title in 23 years for China, Elkeson ensured a repeat of history with his strike on 54 minutes to break the deadlock.
And despite Al Ahli pushing for an equaliser, with a score-draw being enough for the visitors to claim the title, the sending off of Salmin Khamis proved an obstacle too big to overcome and sparked celebrations amongst the capacity crowd in the southern Chinese city.
Having missed out in the 0-0 draw in the first leg in Dubai, Guangzhou were boosted ahead of the tie by the return of Korea Republic centre-back Kim Young-gwon from suspension, while Zou Zheng took over at left-back from Li Xuepeng.
For Al Ahli, UAE international Walid Abbas deputised for suspended full-back Abdulaziz Haikal.
And it was the altered Al Ahli backline that was first tested on six minutes as Elkeson powered down the left channel before driving in a low cross that needed a brave block from goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud to deny an onrushing Ricardo Goulart.
Guangzhou shaded the opening spell thereafter, but with 25 minutes gone the ever-dangerous Everton Ribeiro won possession deep inside his own half and the Al Ahli playmaker sprinted up the field before finding Lima inside the penalty area, but the former Benfica man’s shot was well saved by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
But Zeng’s night was then brought to a premature end following an awkward fall inside the penalty area just after the half hour, and the China goalkeeper was replaced by Guangzhou’s longest-serving player Li Shuai.
Mahmoud then saved well at his feet from Zheng Long’s stooping header with three minutes remaining before the interval as the Chinese champions pushed for the game’s first goal.
With no changes from either coach as the second half kicked off, Guangzhou remained on the front foot and eight minutes after the restart they broke the deadlock.
Zheng, who had impressed in the first half, played in Elkeson and the Brazilian spun past Khamis and slipped his shot under a sprawling Mahmoud to give the hosts a priceless lead.
With Guangzhou scenting further goals they poured forward and Khamis’ sliced clearance from Zhang Linpeng’s cross almost crept under his own crossbar.
On 66 minutes, though, the Al Ahli centre-back’s night was to get worse after the 24-year-old was involved in a clash with Zheng that saw the defender receive a red card from referee Ravshan Irmatov.
Everton Ribeiro always looked the most likely source of a way back in for Al Ahli, and the Brazilian’s pass to put Lima through on goal with 13 minutes remaining needed a desperate last-man tackle from Kim to deny the visitors an equaliser.
Cosmin Olaroiu’s side knew that a goal would still see them take the title, and on 84 minutes Abdelaziz Sanqour’s ball from deep was inches away from being turned in by Lima.
But that was as good as it got for Al Ahli, and Guangzhou could have scored a second in added time when Zhang sent through Elkeson, but this time his finish was wild and over the crossbar.
And although Al Ahli had a late corner and Mahmoud joined the attack, the whistle shortly after brought euphoric scenes from Luiz Felipe Scolari and his team.