Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande stole the show in Wednesday's AFC Champions League quarter-final first legs, defeating Lekhwiya 2-0 at home which left them with a handy cushion going into next month’s return in Doha. Esteghlal, meanwhile, grabbed a solitary-goal home victory against Buriram United.
Elsewhere, both Al Shabab and Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia dropped points but the former battled from behind to earn a precious away point at Kashiwa Reysol, while the latter only avoided defeat at home courtesy of a late equaliser from substitute Sultan Al Sawadi.
Quarter-final first legs:
Al Ahli 1-1 FC Seoul
Esteghlal 1-0 Buriram United
Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 Lekhwiya
Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Al Shabab
Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 Lekhwiya
Lekhwiya justified their place as an emerging power by eliminating Al Hilal in the Round of 16 but the Qataris were overwhelmed at Guangzhou. Coach Eric Gerets' visitors did whatever they could to keep the Chinese hosts at bay in the first period, but a quickfire second-half double gave Lippi's side a deserved win.
In a match the home team dominated from the outset, Guangzhou enjoyed the lion's share of possession throughout and carved out 24 attempts on goal. Both striking-ace Muriqui and Gao Lin came close to opening the scoring for the hosts, while the visitors threatened with breaks with striker Sebastian Soria and Nam Taehee taking aim.
Guangzhou upped the tempo after the restart but they had to wait until the 73rd minute for the breakthrough. Dario Conca was tripped in the area and the playmaker sent goalkeeper Claude Amine the wrong way from the resultant penalty. The Argentinian midfielder turned provider three minutes later with a smart back-heel assist as Elkeson doubled the scoreline.
Muriqui, with eight goals to his name in the campaign, missed a golden chance to extend Guangzhou's lead when he shot over in front of an unguarded net. Lekhwiya hit back hard in the closing minutes hunting an away goal, but it was the hosts that should have scored their third had not been for Amine's fine displays between the posts.
The other attractions
In what had been anticipated to be a comfortable outing for Esteghlal, the Iranian champions were made to sweat on home soil at the Azadi Stadium. Khosro Heydari put the hosts ahead with a fortuitous goal inside the opening minute but Buriram, having made a name for themselves by reaching the knockout stage for the first time, hit back strongly. Both Jesus Berrocal and Osmar Barba looked set to equalise for the visitors, only for goalkeeper Mehdi Rahmati to snuff out the danger. The Esteghlal custodian was a stand-out performer in the second half, blocking a powerful header from Jesus Berrocal before again denying Barba as the home side held on to their narrow lead for victory.
Substitute Sultan Al Sawadi cancelled out Dejan Damjanovic's early opener with a late strike as Al Ahli held FC Seoul to a 1-1 draw at home. The visitors got off to a dream start when Damjanovic picked up a throw-in to open the scoring after ten minutes. But the hosts, with Mustafa Al Bassas pulling the strings, gradually asserted their dominance. Having seen an effort go narrowly wide shortly after the restart, the lively Bassas provided an assist for Al Sawadi to equalise.
A hugely entertaining clash ended in a 1-1 draw as Al Shabab came from behind to draw with hosts Kashiwa Reysol in rainy conditions. It is a result which leaves the Saudis well placed with a precious away goal going into the Riyadh return. The home team went ahead midway through the opening half when on-song Masato Kudo - Kashiwa's top-scorer both domestically and in Asia - latched onto a clearance to break the deadlock. But the visitors drew level just before the break as Fernando Menegazzo volleyed home off a corner.
Dario Conca proved the difference with the diminutive, dynamic midfielder having a hand in both of Guangzhou's goals. Having been on target six times to steer his side to the last eight in 2012, the former Fluminense star has again excelled on the continent with Guangzhou establishing themselves as the team to beat.
1 - A quartet of teams earned a point while Elkeson broke his Champions League duck on his Asian debut for Guangzhou.
What they said
"Our shots lacked accuracy in the first half but our players produced the goals and we won the game. The quarter-finals feature the strongest teams from Asia so I am satisfied with the result," Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi