Guangzhou: Defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande were knocked out of the AFC Champions League by Western Sydney Wanderers on away goals despite beating the fledgling Australian outfit 2-1 in yesterday’s quarter-final second leg in China.
The Australians, who were founded in 2012, now face South Korean side FC Seoul in the semi-finals after edging past the big-spending Chinese champions following a 2-2 aggregate draw.
A Tomi Juric penalty 11 minutes into the second half on Wednesday proved decisive despite Guangzhou winning the return leg with a quick reply by Alessandro Diamanti and a late strike from Elkeson, who missed a first-half spot kick.
Guangzhou only have themselves to blame for wasting numerous chances, with banned coach Marcello Lippi cutting a frustrated figure as he watched on in the stands smoking cigars.
The Italian World Cup-winning coach was provisionally suspended by the AFC for angrily confronting the referee at the end of the first leg after Gao Lin and Zhang Linpeng were sent off in the 1-0 loss.
Despite their absence, the Chinese side started the second leg at a frenetic pace.
Italian forward Alberto Gilardino cannoned a shot against the bar in the 27th minute before the hosts were given the chance to square the tie with a 33rd minute penalty.
However, Brazilian forward Elkeson, who had been brought down by Italian Iacopo La Rocca, saw his drilled shot saved by Ante Covic as the Wanderers reached halftime at 0-0.
The Chinese side continued to press forward after the interval but it was the visitors who snatched the lead with a penalty after Mark Bridge broke free and lofted the ball over onrushing keeper Zeng Cheng, who took out the forward.
Juric stepped up to calmly show Elkeson how it should be done by firing his 56th minute spot kick low and hard into the bottom corner.
The goal should have killed the tie but Guangzhou pulled level on the night two minutes later to give their fans hope when Diamanti smashed a flick down into the corner of the net to bring the Chinese within two goals of going through.
The Australians retreated for the final 30 minutes but a mixture of good defending, fine saves by Covic and a lack of composure from Guangzhou left the scores level.
The combination of Italians Diamanti and Gilardino has so far failed to have the same impact as Argentine Diego Conca and Brazilian Muriqui, who both left the club after leading them to last year’s Champions League title. Elkeson finally got on the scoresheet when he smashed home from close range in the 91st from a header across goal.
But it was too little too late as the Wanderers played out the final few minutes of stoppage time with relative ease to advance to the semi-finals and keep alive their bid to become the first Australian winners.