FC Seoul Hold Guangzhou Evergrande to Draw in AFC Champions League Final
Following a 2-2 draw with FC Seoul at the World Cup Stadium in the Korean capital, Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande side will take a slight advantage back to China for the second leg of the AFC Champions League final.
The result keeps alive the side's dream of becoming the first team from China to win the competition in its current format.
Lippi would add to his own personal honours collection by becoming the first manager to win both the European and Asian versions of the competition.
Heading into the game as favourites, Lippi's side started well and took control of possession in the early stages. However, they would suffer an early setback as the hosts took advantage of a quick free-kick to take the lead.
Sergio Escudero was the beneficiary of strike partner Dejan Damjanovic's quick thinking, shrugging off a challenge from Feng Xiaoting before slotting the ball low past goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
The goal gave the home side a boost in confidence, and for a few minutes, Seoul came back strongly into the game—although without creating much in the way of goal-scoring opportunities.
In fact, despite Seoul's period of control, the best chance of the encounter would fall to Chinese forward Gao Lin, whose low shot from the right channel was well saved by goalkeeper Kim Yong-Dae.
However, the tie would swing massively in the favour of the visiting side on the half-hour mark when Chinese Super League top-scorer Elkeson rose high from a corner to restore parity—his 28th goal of a highly impressive campaign.
Having restored a measure of control on the game heading into the break, it was no surprise to see Evergrande take the lead after 15 minutes of the second half, with Gao Lin deftly turning home Sun Xiang's low cross from the left flank.
However, with a lead established, Evergrande struggled to find top gear as they have on so many occasions this season, with Seoul coming into the game more and more.
Heading into the final stages, they were punished for their inability to retain the ball, despite switching to a 3-5-2 setup, as Damjanovic capitalised on a lack of defensive organisation to level matters at 2-2.
Evergrande forward Muriqui would have late opportunities to recapture the lead for his side, while Damjanovic was denied a winner by Zeng Cheng.
In his post-match press conference, Evergrande coach Lippi described the 2-2 final score as "fair."
With the scores level and an away goal to their name, Evergrande's hopes of claiming the title at home remain strong.
Dario Conca was once more excellent at the heart of the midfield, and for as long as the Argentine is firing, they will be a difficult side to beat.
There can be no excuses for either side over two legs.
Pre-match, Lippi had complained of not being given training facilities and that his side was forced to train in the gym of their hotel on the night of their arrival.
Seoul, meanwhile, only arrived at the ground 45 minutes prior to kick-off—a factor identified by some of their players post-match—but the draw was also heralded as a good overall result by many on the Korean side.
Anticipation of an Evergrande victory has reached ridiculous levels in China, with their run to the final seen as representing China's much maligned football setup.
Fans from all over the country will be at both games to cheer on the Guangzhou side, but they will now have another nervous 90 minutes on their hands following Seoul's late equaliser on Saturday evening.
Lippi will be confident of success at the Tianhe Stadium, but FC Seoul are not giving up Korea's dominance of the competition without a fight.
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