A hard-fought goalless draw at Gamba Osaka proved enough for Luiz Felipe Scolari's Guangzhou Evergrande to seal their place in the AFC Champions League final, having prevailed 2-1 at home in the first leg. By doing so, the 2013 champions set up an enticing clash with Al Ahli, who eliminated Al Hilal in dramatic fashion. FIFA.com recaps the semi-final, second-leg showdowns.
Al Ahli 3-2 Al Hilal
Defender Kwon Kyungwon struck deep into the stoppage time as Al Ahli ran out 3-2 winners against Al Hilal at home. The result, coupled with the 1-1 away draw, saw the Dubai giants continue their history-making run by sealing their maiden place in the decider. By doing so, Cosmin Olaroiu's side became the second club from United Arab Emirates to reach the fixture, with Al Ain having made it in 2001 and 2005, including lifting the trophy in the inaugural edition.
The fact that the two sides were separated only by Kwon's last-ditch effort told its own story. After a cagey start, hosts Al Ahli took the lead on 19 minutes, Brazilian forward Lima opening the scoring from the close range. Everton Ribeiro doubled the advantage before the break when the former Cruzeiro attacker lobbed keeper Abdullah Al Sdairy. Two goals down and playing away, though, the visitors emerged a determined side after the restart. Ailton pulled one back on 51 minutes before Carlos Eduardo drew level to leave the visitors on the verge of progression on away goals. With so much at stake, though, Kwon eased the hosts' worries by netting the dramatic winner.
The other attraction
In another game, visiting Guangzhou sealed their return to the final by drawing away to Gamba. Aware that a 1-0 victory would take them through, the home side entered the game desperately seeking the opening goal. With over 7,000 travelling Chinese fans cheering them on, however, Guangzhou nearly turned the Osaka Expo '70 Stadium into their own venue. Scolari's visitors proved the brighter side in both halves by carving out far more chances than the rivals. Notably, top-scorer Ricardo Goulart came close when his glancing header flew just wide of the post before Elkeson forced Gamba keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi into a fine save with a close-range shot.
The Brazilian striker would miss a gilt-edged opportunity to break the deadlock after the restart when he raced into the area clear only to flick his shot just over. In the opposite third, Gamba caused a headache or two for Guangzhou in the latter stages with striking-ace Takashi Usami substitute on. Having seen an effort blocked, the former Bayern Munich forward flashed a shot just wide of the far post in the closing minute as the match ended goalless.
Needless to say, Ahmed Khalil has been the driving force as Al Ahli stormed all the way to the AFC Champions League final. The 24-year-old entered the semi-finals as the team's top scorer with six goals in this campaign. Despite failing to find the back of the net, he proved a constant threat for the visiting Al Hial and provided the assist for Lima's opener. The former AFC Youth Player of the Year's form will be the key if the UAE side are to clinch their first Asian title.
19 - Guangzhou have proved to be the tournament's highest scorers so far, having netted 19 goals from 12 outings.
What they said
Cosmin Olaroiu, Al Ahli coach: "Al Hilal took control but the mood in the AFC Champions League is to fight. We created two situations and we scored in the last minute. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck in football and this time it was on our side.”
Al Ahli 3-2 Al Hilal (4-3 on aggregate)
Gamba Osaka 0-0 Guangzhou Evergrande (1-2 on aggregate)