Guangzhou out to keep ACL dream alive

Guangzhou out to keep ACL dream alive

Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande face two-time winners Al Ittihad in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday looking to overturn a two-goal first leg deficit, while the visitors to Tianhe Stadium are looking to advance to the last four alongside fellow Saudi League sides Al Ahli and Al Hilal.

Huang Bowen (second left) scored in Jeddah as Guangzhou Evergrande lost 4-2 to Al Ittihad

Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou, who are making their maiden appearance in the continental competition, twice took the lead in Jeddah earlier this month only for a pair of second half headers from Naif Hazazi to hand 2004 and 2005 champions Al Ittihad a 4-2 win.

Guangzhou, though, are boosted by the return from suspension of defender Zhang Linpeng and midfielder Zhao Xuri for the return fixture, although Brazilian striker Muriqui is a doubt after being forced off in the first half of the first leg due to injury.

The 2011 Chinese Super League top scorer, who has scored three goals in the AFC Champions League this season, has missed Guangzhou’s last three domestic outings since the trip to Jeddah including Friday’s surprise 2-1 defeat by Qingdao Jonoon in the Chinese Super League.

Muriqui was also absent as Guangzhou shared a 2-2 draw with Liaoning Whowin on Wednesday which secured a place in the Chinese FA Cup final.

“This game will be decided over 180 minutes and hopefully when we play at home all of our players will be back,” said World Cup winning coach Lippi, who also won the UEFA Champions League with Juventus in 1996, following the first leg defeat.

Guangzhou are the first Chinese side since Shanghai Shenhua in 2006 to reach the last eight of the competition and are aiming to emulate Shenzhen Jianlibao’s run to the semi-finals a year earlier.

With Al Ittihad looking to secure a fifth AFC Champions League semi-final appearance in eight years, Raul Caneda’s side head to southern China after extending their unbeaten start to the new Saudi League campaign with a 1-0 win over Al Wahda on Tuesday.

Al Ittihad also have added incentive to advance to the semi-finals for a second consecutive season with cross-city Al Ahli potential opponents in the last four, while a mouth-watering final against their great Riyadh rivals Al Hilal is also a possibility.

Saudi league runners-up Al Ahli shared a goalless draw against Iran Pro League champions Sepahan in Isfahan and are slight favourites ahead of Tuesday’s second leg, while Al Hilal welcome Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai to Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium on Wednesday trailing by just one goal from the first leg.

During the first leg at Foolad Shahr Stadium, both sides squandered a host of opportunities with Sepahan’s Mohammad Reza Khalatbari hitting the crossbar in the first half for the 2007 finalists.

“In the next match we’ll be playing in front of our fans and we will be trying hard to wrap up the victory at home,” said Al Ahli coach Karel Jarolim following the first leg.

“However, a 0-0 draw doesn’t guarantee anything for us and we need to put in our best effort to write our own fate when we go head to head with them at home.”

At Munsu Stadium, Brazilian striker Rafinha scored the only goal as Ulsan edged out Al Hilal although the visitors were unlucky not to at least head back to Riyadh with a draw after failing to convert several chances.

Ulsan are looking to maintain Korea’s proud recent history in the AFC Champions League with the K-League having provided two of the last three winners as well as last year’s beaten finalists, while two-time Asian Club Championship winners Al Hilal are seeking to match their run to the 2010 semi-finals.

“I feel we deserved a draw, but 1-0 is still a good result and we are in a good position to qualify for the semi-finals,” said Al Hilal coach Antoine Kombouare following the narrow first leg defeat.

“I would have preferred to score, so from that point of view I am disappointed, but we played well so I am happy.”

Finally in Tashkent on Wednesday, Uzbekistan champions Bunyodkor entertain familiar foes Adelaide United after the pair shared an entertaining 2-2 draw in their first leg in Australia.

Former finalists Adelaide had taken a two-goal lead after just 18 minutes through Iain Ramsay and Evan Kostopoulos, but after the dismissal of Reds defender Nigel Boogard just before half-time at Hindmarsh Stadium, Jasur Khasanov and Shavkat Salomov netted to level the tie.

With Boogard suspended, Adelaide coach John Kosmina must decide whether to partner either Jon McKain or Antony Golec with Iain Fyfe in the centre of defence.

McKain missed the first leg due to a knee injury but is pushing for a recall, with Jordan Elsey remaining in the squad as additional defensive cover.

With the A-League season in Australia not beginning until after the second leg, Anvarjon Soliev scored twice on Thursday as Bunyodkor beat Metallurg Bekabad 3-1 to maintain their one-point lead over Pakhtakor at the top of the Uzbek League table.

The draw in Adelaide was Bunyodkor’s second this season after sharing a goalless stalemate during the Group Stage, with Mirdjalal Kasimov’s side now looking to gain revenge for the 2-1 home defeat suffered by the Reds earlier in the competition.

“It’s good that we scored two away goals but it doesn’t mean that we can relax when we get back to Tashkent,” said Bunyodkor coach Mirdjalal Kasimov following the first leg.

During the semi-finals in 2008, Bunyodkor lost the first leg 3-0 in Adelaide before only managing a 1-0 win at home following a resolute defensive display by the Reds, who went on to lose the final to Japan’s Gamba Osaka.

World Sport Group




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