Brazilian forward Elkeson scored the match and tournament winning-goal as Guangzhou Evergrande claimed the 2015 AFC Champions League title by seeing off ten-man Al Ahli 1-0 at the Tianhe Stadium, having shared spoils in a goalless stalemate in the first leg. The results saw the Chinese Super League champions clinch their second Asian silverware in three years having tasted their maiden continental success in 2013.
By doing so, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side became just the second team to win the continental showpiece twice in its current guise after Al Ittihad who won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. For Guangzhou, even more exciting is the fact that they will represent Asia in their second FIFA World Cup at Japan 2015 this December, where they open their campaign with a mouth-watering match against Mexican side Club America in the quarter-finals.
“I want to congratulate all our fans as well the entire Chinese people as we are again on the top of Asia,” said an excited Elkeson, who earned the player of the match award. “We stayed focused throughout despite all the challenges facing us. The team have a good understanding between us and we are coached by an ambitious manager in [Luiz Felipe] Scolari. So the victory came naturally.”
"It was not an easy campaign for us this year," midfielder Huang Bowen added. "The opponents are stronger and sometimes we had to play with an under-strength team due to our growing injury list. It was the team’s unity and spirit that finally carried us through."
Guangzhou get goingAs in the first-leg meeting in Dubai, Guangzhou proved the brighter side in the opening half. Spurred on by the home supporters in a packed Tianhe Stadium, the home side were the first to attack with Elkeson cutting into the area only to fail to control the ball.
The visitors tried their luck through a number of counter-attacks, with Everton Ribeiro flashing a shot wide. But Guangzhou maintained pressure on their opponents and came close to opening the scoring when Elkeson, one of the seven players who started in the second leg of the 2013 final when they prevailed with a 1-1 home draw against FC Seoul, sent a vicious cross into the area. First to it was Ricardo Goulart, who forced keeper Ahmed Mahmoud into action with a lightning strike from an acute angle.
While struggling to keep the hosts at bay, Al Ahli went forward at will. Lima broke down the right before stinging Guangzhou 'keeper Zeng Cheng's hands with a powerful drive. However, it was Guangzhou that went closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening period, with midfielder Zheng Long turning well and flashing a thunderous strike inches wide of the left post.
Guangzhou were forced into switching goalkeepers with Li Shuai replacing Zeng Cheng who was forced off with a foot injury. In the remainder of the first period, Al Ahli had Mahmoud to thank as the custodian repeatedly frustrated the hosts attackers.
Pressure turned up after the breakKnowing that they needed a goal to ward off extra time and potentially penalties, Guangzhou heaped the pressure on Al Ahli after the restart. The long-anticipated opener came on 53 minutes when the lively Elkeson latched onto Zheng Long's diagonal pass before superbly twisting past two defenders and slotting home.
The visitors' woes were compounded when they were reduced to ten men following Salmin Khamis’ dismissal after fouling Zheng Long just after the hour mark. Despite the blow, Al Ahli hit back hard and caused their Chinese opponents problems on a couple of occasions. Oussama Assaidi ghosted into the area only to pull his shot over, before Lima threatened with a solo effort.
Capitalising on their numerical advantage, however, Guangzhou kept pushing as they aimed to crush the opponent's hopes of a comeback with a second in the closing stages. Right-back Zhang Linpeng played the ball down the flank before sending a dangerous cross into the area but with his legs beginning to tire, Zheng Long failed to connect to the ball.
Al Ahli threw everything forward in stoppage time but Guangzhou did well in thwarting the desperate UAE side. The hosts even had a final chance to double the lead when Zheng Linpeng sent Elkeson clear. With only the goalkeeper to beat, the Guangzhou No9 could not get his shot on target.
The victory sees Luiz Felipe Scolari join former Guangzhou boss Marcello Lippi in winning two different continental club titles and the FIFA World Cup™. The enigmatic Brazilian will be hoping to add the FIFA Club World Cup to his collection next month.