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May 23, 2019

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Guangzhou squeezes into last 16

Former Barcelona star Paulinho edged two-time winner Guangzhou Evergrande into the AFC Champions League last 16 yesterday, while title-holders Kashima Antlers had to come from a goal behind to avoid an embarrassing group-stage exit.

The Brazil midfielder’s second-half header was the difference for Fabio Cannavaro’s side in a tense 1-0 home win over South Korea’s Daegu, which had only needed to avoid defeat to finish second in Group F.

In Japan, a quickfire double from substitute Sho Ito gave Kashima a 2-1 home win over Group E leader Shandong Luneng, which had taken a 10th-minute lead, courtesy of former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini.

Kashima now faces an all-Japan clash against Group F winner Sanfrecce Hiroshima, which won 3-1 at Melbourne Victory.

Meanwhile, Shandong, which topped the group a point ahead of Kashima, will square off against Guangzhou in a blockbuster all-Chinese clash when the knockout stage begins next month.

Cannavaro’s side began the must-win game against Daegu without its potent Brazilian attacking midfielder Anderson Talisca, who was out with a knee injury.

Without the former Benfica player, Evergrande lacked invention in the final third of the pitch, while Daegu was happy to sit back at Tianhe Stadium.

Nervy Evergrande, which won Asia’s premier club competition in 2013 and 2015, finally got the breakthrough on 64 minutes when Paulinho rose to head in via a Daegu defender’s touch, though the 30-year-old Brazilian gleefully claimed the goal for himself.

Kashima, which had lost its two previous ACL games, only needed a draw to join Shandong in the last 16 but fell behind early as beanpole Belgian Fellaini powered home a header after good work from Brazilian Gil.

The home side struck back in the 68th when super-sub Ito smashed home from close range after the visitors failed to clear a Leo Silva corner.

Moments later, Ito beat the offside trap and applied a clinical finish with the outside of his right boot to turn the game on its head for Kashima, which had kept Asia’s premier club title in Japan last year after Urawa Red Diamonds won it in 2017.

Kashima’s comeback meant Korean side Gyeongnam’s 2-0 home victory over Johor Darul Ta’zim in the other Group E match was rendered rather meaningless.

Stubborn resistance

Luc Castaignos fired the K-League club ahead a little after the hour mark to break stubborn resistance from the Malaysian minnows before Takahiro Kunimoto added an injury-time second.

Japanese veteran Keisuke Honda’s last match in Australia for Melbourne Victory ended in a home defeat as Hiroshima confirmed its Group F dominance.

The former AC Milan star, who turns 33 next month, announced on Tuesday that he will pursue a new challenge after an injury-disrupted single season at the Australian club

Goals from Taishi Matsumoto after five minutes and second-half strikes from Yusuke Minagawa (73) and Tsukasa Morishima (75) sealed the points for Hiroshima after big Swedish striker Ola Toivonen had given Victory brief hope with a 70th-minute equalizer.

The other knockout clashes in east Asia will see Chinese Super League champion Shanghai SIPG take on South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors while Urawa will clash with another Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai.


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