Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande stormed into their first AFC Champions League final with a 4-0 rout and 8-1 aggregate win over a shell-shocked Kashiwa Reysol in the semi-final clash. Brazilian ace Muriqui reached a tournament-record 13 goals with his second brace in two games as the Chinese champions' South American attack floored Kashiwa at a rocking Tianhe Sport Center.
The emphatic victory, following last week's 4-1 rout in Kashiwa, keeps Guangzhou on course to end China's 23-year Asian title drought after Liaoning won the Asian Club Championship in 1990. They are the first Chinese team to reach the Asian decider since Dalian were runners-up in the Asian Club Championship, the Champions League's predecessor, in 1998.
In Beijing, in front of a big, red-clad crowd and with Lippi's gold medallion gleaming from his open-necked shirt, Guangzhou refused to give Kashiwa any chance to settle as they made a lightning start. Elkeson drew a brilliant one-handed save from Takanori Sugeno and he had a goal disallowed, a header from a Gao Lin cross, within the first 15 minutes for an apparent shove on a defender.
But on 16 minutes, there was no doubt about the opener as a corner dropped obligingly at Elkeson's feet, and the Brazilian took one touch and rammed it home from six yards. Zhang Linpeng rattled the woodwork with a glorious shot from 25 yards, and Gao's header forced another save from Sugeno after a sumptuous move as the hosts turned on the style.
Elkeson had another header into the net chalked off after the referee took issue with his close contact with Kashiwa goalkeeper Sugeno. Kashiwa's few glimpses of goal were coming mainly from corners, but they had a mini-revival after half-time when Wataru Hashimoto and Brazilian forward Jorge Wagner both went close.
Evergrande extend lead
However, Sugeno again had to keep out Elkeson before Argentine maestro Dario Conca, unmarked in the Kashiwa box, headed in substitute Rong Hao's hanging cross on 57 minutes.
The game was up for Kashiwa, now 6-1 down on aggregate, but Tetsuro Ota missed a great chance to make it look more respectable when he curled a shot wide from close range.
And the night got even worse for the J.League side when Muriqui, fed by a clever ball from Conca, held off a marker and buried his shot to make it 3-0. Kashiwa's Masato Kudo hit the bar with a superb shot but at the other end Muriqui, fed again by Conca, burst into the box and rounded Sugeno for 4-0 and his record 13th goal of the competition.
To put Guangzhou's victory in perspective, Emperor's Cup-holders Kashiwa had been unbeaten throughout the tournament until last week's 4-1 home defeat to the Chinese side. Lippi, who coached Italy to victory in the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, will now attempt to add the Asian continental title to the UEFA Champions League which he won with Juventus in 1996.
In the second semi-final decider, at Tehran's intimidating Azadi Stadium, Daesung Ha put FC Seoul into the lead by the break, with Esteghlal's Trinidad and Tobago international defender Jlloyd Samuel giving the Iranian side hope with a 50th minute equaliser.
Home-based striker Mohammad Ghazi Najafabadi put Esteghlal 2-1 up on the night with quarter of an hour left on the clock before Jinkyu Kim struck with an 80th minute penalty to see Seoul safely through for their date with Evergrande.