Title-holders Guangzhou Evergrande destroyed Diego Forlan's Cerezo Osaka 5-1 in the AFC Champions League last 16 as they moved towards their third straight quarter-finals in ominous style. A quickfire double from Elkeson, a stylish brace from fellow Brazilian Muriqui and a lone effort from Gao Lin meant Marcello Lippi's team will have an easy task in next week's home leg.
Guangzhou had not previously won away in this year's competition and they were in danger of crashing out in the group stages before coming through in their final group game. But China's very first AFC Champions League-winners roared back to title form as they took apart Cerezo, spearheaded by Uruguay star Forlan, in front of their own fans in Osaka.
Guangzhou had the best of the early exchanges and there was an air of inevitability as Italy international Alessandro Diamanti and Muriqui combined for the opener on 22 minutes. Receiving the ball from Asian player of the year Zheng Zhi, Muriqui played a one-two with Diamanti, whose sliding return pass put last year's top-scorer through on goal for his first of the tournament.
Cerezo were quick to respond. After breaking on the right, Forlan crossed and Ariajasuru Hasegawa squeezed an accurate first-time shot just inside the far post on the half-hour. But two Elkeson goals in the space of four minutes turned the tie firmly in Guangzhou's favour, starting from Yuta Someya's needless foul on the Brazilian in the penalty area.
From the spot, Elkeson sent goalkeeper Kim Jinhyeon the wrong way, and Cerezo also made it easy for Guangzhou on 37 minutes when the striker rose unchallenged to nod home Diamanti's curling free-kick. Cerezo failed to hit back after half-time and with 12 minutes left, Chinese forward Gao Lin, brought on as a substitute for Elkeson, made it 4-1 when he put a shot between the goalkeeper's legs.
The quick-thinking Muriqui deepened Cerezo's plight when, leaping for a high ball, he used his shoulder to bounce it into the net, crashing into the post in the process and leaving the field. Guangzhou have reached the quarter-finals in both their previous appearances and Cerezo will have to pull off one of the event's great turnarounds to deny the Chinese league-leaders this year.
Pohang earn advantage, Al Ittihad edge Saudi derby
Earlier, Pohang Steelers came from behind to grab a precious 2-1 win against fellow former winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the first leg of their all-Korean clash. The visitors fell behind to Lee Jaesung's header shortly after the break but they were quickly back on terms through Son Junho, before Go Mooyul fired the winner 16 minutes from time. The victory gives Pohang, the 2009 winners, the advantage ahead of next week's return against Jeonbuk, who lifted the trophy in 2006 and again reached the final in 2011.
Meanwhile, Asamoah Gyan continued his fine form in the tournament as he helped Al Ain beat Al Jazira 2-1 in Abu Dhabi. Ghanaian Gyan, who was Al Ain's mainstay on the group stage with seven goals, struck off an Ismail Ahmed assist in the 11th minute and Omar Abdulrahman made it 2-0 four minutes later in the battle between the top UAE teams. Musallem Fayez reduced the margin for Al Jazira in the second half off a pass from Abdelaziz Barada but Al Ain held on to their lead going into the home leg with a significant advantage.
In the holy city of Mecca, Al Ittihad edged Al Shabab 1-0 in a battle of Saudi giants. Mukhtar Fallatah netted the only goal of the match in the 75th minute to give the two-time champions a crucial victory.