Guangzhou Evergrande booked a place in the final four of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015 in the most dramatic fashion possible, as Paulinho’s header in the last minute of added time broke Club America’s hearts in Osaka to give the Asian champions a 2-1 win. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side had previously gone behind, but his substitutes Zheng Long, Lin Gao and Yu Hanchao changed the course of the game with all three having a hand in the goals.
The opening to the match was cagey and it was the Mexicans who had the best chance in the early stages. Carlos Quintero picked up possession and drove at the Guangzhou defence, playing the ball to Dario Benedetto, who stabbed the ball into the path of Ricardo Sambueza. The Club America skipper’s shot took a deflection off Linpeng Zhang and appeared to be headed goalwards, but Li Shuai in the Guangzhou goal turned the ball away for a corner.
It took the Asian champions 19 minutes to create their first chance of the game. It was a move which saw their Brazilian quartet combine to good effect before Robinho’s drive from the edge of the box forced a decent save from Moises Munoz.
Two minutes later, Benedetto’s strike from 18 yards stung the outstretched palms of Li and after being fed by Quintero, Pablo Aguilar was presented with just the keeper to beat, but drove the ball across the face of goal, albeit from a tight angle.
Then as the game approached the half hour mark, a quite magnificent save from Shuai kept the scores level. After Zheng Zhi committed a foul just outside the area, Paolo Goltz stepped up and curled a free-kick which seemed destined for the top corner until the 33-year-old palmed the ball away at full stretch. It fell to Benedetto, but the tall Argentine could only head wide.
Both sides went close as the half came to a close. Goulart’s cross-come-shot almost took Munoz by surprise, but the keeper was equal to it. Play then switched to the other end. Benedetto forced another fine save from Shuai at his near post and with the ball bobbling around the six yard area, Goltz headed over from close range with the goal at his mercy.
Club America had a hat trick of chances to open the scoring shortly after the restart but Peralta, Benedetto and Quintero were denied either by Shuai or poor finishing.
Second half goal glut
However with 55 minutes on the clock, the Mexican side were not to be denied. Benedetto swung an inch-perfect cross from the right and Peralta was on hand to head the ball home from close range.
Guangzhou should have levelled matters with 20 minutes to go. First Zheng Zou saw his goalbound effort deflected wide. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Xiaoting Feng who completely missed the ball when he was presented with the simplest of tap-ins.
Ten minutes later, they did go level. Scolari sent on two substitutes who combined to great effect for the AFC Champions League winners. Lin Gao was played in by Paulinho and he held the ball up well before laying the ball to Long Zheng who made no mistake.
After the goal, the Chinese side looked the most likely to score – and they did in the final minute of added time. Awarded a corner on the left hand side, the ball was swung in by Yu Hangchai and Paulinho rose to head home past Munoz to the delight of the Chinese fans who will now head to Yokohama and a semi-final showdown against Barcelona.