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Guangzhou hold Gamba at bay to reach ACL final with Al Ahli – Cosmin admits to contradictory emotions

Majed Hassan (left), of UAE’s Al-Ahli fights for the ball against Carlos Eduardo of Saudi’s Al-Hilal during their AFC Champions League semifinal football match on Oct 20, in Dubai. (AFP)
Majed Hassan (left), of UAE’s Al-Ahli fights for the ball against Carlos Eduardo of Saudi’s Al-Hilal during their AFC Champions League semifinal football match on Oct 20, in Dubai. (AFP)

SINGAPORE, Oct 21, (RTRS): Guangzhou Evergrande advanced to the Asian Champions League final 2-1 on aggregate after comfortably holding Japanese champions Gamba Osaka to a goalless draw in their semi-final second leg on Wednesday. The Chinese outfit will play Emiratis Al-Ahli in the two legged final next month after the Dubai club edged Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal 4-3 on aggregate following a dramatic second leg in Dubai on Tuesday.

While Al Ahli will contest a first final, it will be a second for Guangzhou after they won the biggest prize in Asian club football in 2013. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou side are sure to face a sterner examination from the Al-Ahli than they faced in Osaka on Wednesday, with Gamba, the last Japanese winners of the tournament in 2008, surprisingly flat.

The Japanese opted to leave top scorer Takashi Usami on the bench for the second leg and despite bossing possession in the opening period it was the visitors who looked more dangerous on the counter.

Elkeson and Ricardo Goulart had the best of the chances for Guangzhou, who could afford to leave Brazil international Robinho out of their ACL squad.

Brazilian forward Elkeson had a great chance to break the deadlock when he was sent clear in the 52nd minute but his right foot shot just sailed over the cross bar.

Guangzhou midfielder Paulinho was perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty after handling a corner but the Chinese were otherwise efficient in smothering the hosts.

Gamba boss Kenta Hasegawa eventually brought on Usami to partner Brazilian striker Patric in attack with 30 minutes remaining.

The former Bayern Munich forward was able to fashion a couple of half chances and showed some neat touches but the Chinese survived to make another final.

Meanwhile, Cosmin Olaroiu admitted to contradictory emotions after leading Dubai’s Al Ahli to a maiden Asian Champions League final on Tuesday, seven years after he coached opponents Al Hilal to the Saudi title.

The Romanian also took charge of the kingdom’s national team at this year’s Asia Cup and is a veteran of Gulf soccer, having won three league championships in the United Arab Emirates this decade.

“It’s qualification but for me it’s a little bit difficult because against Hilal one eye cries one eye is happy,” Olaroiu told reporters after Ahli’s Kwon Kyung-won netted in injury time to send the 2014 UAE champions through to November’s ACL final 4-3 on aggregate.

Ahli had never reached the ACL knock-out stages before and required an 88th minute winner in their final group game to make the last-16, but will now hope to become the UAE’s first continental champion since Al Ain in 2003.

“Of course I’m happy mostly for my players, they are heroes for what they have done nobody gave them a chance. They are in the final and I told them they don’t have to stop here,” said Olaroiu.

Against Hilal, Ahli were 2-0 up thanks to first-half strikes by Brazilian pair Rodrigo Lima and Everton Ribeiro, before the Riyadh outfit’s own Brazilian duo Ailton and Carlos Eduardo provided sublime finishes to put last year’s finalists ahead on away goals.

“Sometimes you need a little bit of luck in football and this time it was on our side,” said Olaroiu. “In the second half, they created more, but they failed because the intensity they played (at) meant they spent a lot of energy and step-by-step we came back into the game.”

For Hilal, defeat was bitter, especially after being refused a penalty at 2-1 down, Bahraini referee Nawaf Shukralla giving Ahli a free-kick for an earlier tug after Habib Fardan had scythed down Abdulla al-Dosary as the wing-back shaped to shoot.

“We had a very bad performance in the first 30 minutes,” Ahli’s Greek coach Giorgos Donis told reporters. “In the second half, we played very good football, created a lot of chances, changed the game and had the opportunity to get the ball to win some free kicks but we lost that chance I accept it is my fault.”

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