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Western Sydney Wanderers player Brendan Hamill (left) chases Guangzhou Evergrande player Elkeson De Oliveira Cardoso (right) during their AFC Champions League quarter-final football match in Sydney on Aug 20. (AFP)
Lippi storm, 9-man Guangzhou crash Steelers, Seoul draw

SYDNEY, Aug 20, (AFP): Nine-man Guangzhou Evergrande crashed 1-0 to Western Sydney Wanderers Wednesday in a stormy AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg which left their coach Marcello Lippi facing possible disciplinary action. Antony Golec’s 60th-minute strike sealed an upset win for the Australian debutants and dealt a blow to Guangzhou’s title defence, which was further undermined by an explosive finish in Sydney. After defender Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin were both red-carded in the dying minutes, Italian World Cup-winning coach Lippi rushed on to the field to remonstrate with the referee. “I was a bit upset,” Lippi said. “I know I couldn’t go on the field but there were two red cards in the final minutes.

“I know it was wrong to go on the field but at that time I just wanted to ask the referee why he chose to gave the second red card (Gao Lin) because I didn’t understand why he did this.” Not only will Zhang and Gao be banned for next week’s return leg in southern China, but the fit of pique could end in Lippi being banished to the stands if officials take action. Wanderers coach Tony Popovic refused to reveal what was said in angry exchanges between the two sets of coaching staff. “That’s between us, but I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy if I went on to berate one of their players,” he said.

“We got the win at home, we over there now and we know we have a real chance to go through and that’s what we wanted after the first leg. It’s half-time, we’ve got a slight edge and we’ll give it our all.” The well-heeled defending champions, dubbed the “Manchester United of Asia”, began well with their two expensive Italian attackers Alessandro Diamanti and Alberto Gilardino troubling the home side. Golec blocked a Diamanti shot in the sixth minute before the Wanderers came back into the game late in the first half with Shannon Cole missing a free-header on the back post.
But the Wanderers were much better in the second half, taking the game to the Chinese Super League champions and after big striker Tomi Juric had a snap shot saved, Golec broke the deadlock. Golec was allowed to advance into the box and his shot eluded goalkeeper Zeng Cheng, going in at the far post.
Lippi brought on his substitutes and Guangzhou had more of the play in the closing stages, before tempers boiled over in the last minutes. Zeng was given a straight red card for lashing out at Wanderers Italian midfielder Iacopo La Rocca in the 89th minute.
And one minute later, Gao Lin was also on his way for treading on substitute Vitor Saba’s face while the Brazilian was on the ground. All hell broke loose as Lippi and his coaching staff stormed on to the field to argue with the referee, before calm was eventually restored. It was Guangzhou’s second defeat in Australia in the competition this year after going down 2-0 to Melbourne Victory in the group stage in April. Guangzhou became the first Chinese club to win the AFC Champions League when they defeated Korean side FC Seoul on away goals in last year’s final.
Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg ended in stalemate as Korean champions Pohang Steelers fought to a 0-0 draw with FC Seoul, last year’s runners-up. Hosts Pohang went close to grabbing a winner in stoppage time when Park Sun-Ju fired narrowly wide from the the edge of the box. In Doha, UAE’s Al Ain and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal have one foot in the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League after winning their quarter-final first leg matches. While Al Ain comfortably beat Saudi giants Al Ittihad 2-0 at home, Al Hilal edged unlucky Al Sadd of Qatar 1-0 in Riyadh to go into the second leg next week with a slight advantage. Ismail Ahmed and Asamoah Gyan scored in the second half of their quarter-final first leg in front of a capacity crowd at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
The match produced some excellent football despite the hot and humid weather in the Emirates’ Garden City. The two former Asian champions had clashed twice in the group stages with Al Ittihad winning one and the second match ending in a draw. But Al Ain were clearly motivated by thousands of cheering home fans as they dominated the game throughout and emerged deserving winners. Ahmed broke the deadlock with a volley from inside the box in the 48th minute and Ghanaian Gyan, the lynchpin of the side in the group stages, grabbed the second in the 61st minute. Gyan’s goal was his 11th in the tournament, comfortably ahead of Saudi striker Nasser al-Shamrani, with seven.
Meanwhile 2011 champions Al Sadd can still feel optimistic of overturning the deficit at home in Qatar next week. Al Sadd were not short on motivation after drawing first blood in Qatar’s domestic season by winning the Sheikh Jassim Cup last week beating league champions Lekhwiya 3-2. But they were distinctly unlucky on Tuesday, missing several chances before a powerful shot from close range in the 70th minute by Salman al-Faraj beat the Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb. Just a few minutes before Al Hilal’s goal, Al Sadd’s Nadir Belhadj hit the crossbar, while earlier in the first half Mohamed Kasola and Rodrigo Tabata had gone close.

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