A moment of magic from Brazil’s Elkeson earned China’s Guangzhou Evergrande their second AFC Champions League title in three years on Saturday after a tense second leg of their final against UAE’s Al Ahli.
The striker’s instinctive turn and toe-poke on 54 minutes finally unlocked the Emirati team’s defence to earn a 1-0 win for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side after the first leg in Dubai ended goalless.
The victory was wildly celebrated at a packed Tianhe stadium as the 2013 champions regained the Asian title and earned a spot at next month’s Club World Cup in Japan.
It was also a personal victory for Scolari, who led Brazil to a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in last year’s World Cup semi-finals but who has kept Evergrande unbeaten since his arrival in June.
Al Ahli proved worthy opponents but their challenge was fatally holed when defender Salmin Khamis saw red for a stamp on 66 minutes, and was so incensed he had to be restrained pitchside.
Evergrande nearly got a dream start when Elkeson fed fellow Brazilian Ricardo Goulart in the box, but his close-range shot was well saved at the near post by Ahmed Ashoori.
Al Ahli nearly stunned Evergrande on the break but Jose Lima’s shot from the edge of the area, with passes available, was straight down the throat of goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
Evergrande suffered a blow when Zeng injured himself and had to be replaced by Li Shuai after he leapt to punch a cross clear and landed awkwardly on the ankle of team-mate Huang Bowen.
Zheng Long went close with a near-post header after a well-worked move from the right, but overall the expensively assembled Chinese domestic champions failed to impose themselves in the first half.
However, Evergrande finally broke through after 144 goalless minutes against Al Ahli when Elkeson, receiving the ball with his back to goal, flicked it past a defender and stretched to slot it home.
Al Ahli’s hopes faded further when a furious Khamis earned his straight red card for an apparent stamp on Zheng Long, and had to be restrained by three officials who wrestled him away from the pitch.
But Evergrande still needed heroics from South Korean defender Kim Young-Gwon who made a superb last-ditch challenge on Lima when the Brazilian was one-on-one with substitute ‘keeper Li.
Man-of-the-match Elkeson nearly made it 2-0 for Evergrande in the fourth minute of injury time but he sliced his shot clear when it looked easier to score.
As captain Zheng Zhi lifted the trophy to the strains of “We Are The Champions”, gold tickertape fluttered down and the players sprayed the bubbly and bounced Scolari up and down in celebration.
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