The AFC Champions League returned this week as League leaders, Guangzhou Evergrande, faced Kashima Antlers in their Round of 16 first leg. The other two Chinese teams – Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning faced each other in their match.
A late Paulinho strike in the second half kept Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande on course for the last eight and another AFC Champions League crown after their victories in 2013 and 2015. Paulinho scored with fifteen minutes left on the clock to give Guangzhou the slenderest of leads heading into the second leg in Japan next week. Guangzhou had the first real opportunity of the match after Alan found himself one-on-one with the keeper but the latter was up to the task and kept the Brazilian out. Antlers’ central defender Kento Misao had a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead but headed over. The second half saw Guangzhou dominate proceedings. Eight minutes in, Ricardo Goulart had a wonderful chance to score but headed over from close range. Guangzhou’s pressure and patience paid off as the Antlers’ failed to deal with a corner and Paulinho was on hand at the far post to fire home from close range. Despite Guangzhou’s lead, it is all to play for when the two teams meet again next week.
In the all Chinese affair, Shanghai held all the aces as they had never lost a home match in the competition. EVER. But it looked like we would be treated to an upset as Roger Martinez opened the scoring early on. It looked as if it was Shanghai who were placed below Jiangsu in the league in the match’s opening exchanges. Martinez harried Cai Huikang into a mistake and placed the ball in the bottom corner with all the composure in the world. Shanghai had endured a difficult start with their players cutting frustrated figures. But the course of the game was changed in the 31st minute after Hulk was brought down inside the area by Li Ang. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Hulk stepped up to take the penalty and scored, but only just, as Zhang Sipeng narrowly failed to keep the spot-kick out. The goal seemed to breathe life into the Shanghai outfit and they scored before the half was over. Hulk got to the byline and his inch perfect cross was nodded home by Ahmedov. Shanghai could not score a third leaving the tie finely balanced ahead of next week’s return leg.