Ruthless Guangzhou crush Muangthong hopes

Muangthong United's AFC Champions League dreams are all but over after they fell to a 3-1 loss to Group F rivals Guangzhou Evergrande at the SCG Stadium.

Muriqui races through on goal...
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Muriqui was the star of the show for the Chinese Super League giants as he netted a quick-fire brace shortly before the break to hand his side a comfortable lead at halftime.

Sarawut Masuk did pull one back for Muangthong with a close-range header in the 52nd minute, but it was not to be as Zheng Zhi restored the visitors' two-goal cushion four minutes later, before Feng Xiaoting wrapped up the three points with a fourth in the 86th minute.

Heading into Tuesday's clash in Nonthaburi with just a point from their opening three games, Muangthong knew anything less than a win would almost make progress to the Round of 16 beyond them.

However, they got off to a bright start as they enjoyed the better of the opening proceedings, and came close to opening the scoring in the 6th minute when Mario Gjurovski, pouncing on a loose ball inside the box, fired in a shot that hit team-mate Roland Linz and trickled just wide of the post.

Guangzhou, on the other hand, looked happy to sit back and invite their opponents forward, and were largely restricted to shots from distance; Zhao Xuri sending a couple of speculative efforts off target shortly before the half-hour mark.

The Twin Qilins then carved out another chance in the 31st minute when Jakkapan Pornsai picked out Sarawut with a lovely floated ball, but the 22-year-old failed to pick out the unmarked Linz with his lay-off and the chance went begging.

Given their star-studded starting XI, which included big-name signings like Lucas Barrios, Dario Conca and Muriqui, Guangzhou were always favourites to see off their opponents.

Still, Muriqui was having an awful first half as he struggled to get into the game, until the 40th minute when he latched onto a slide-rule pass by Zheng and raced through, before applying the finishing touches to a sweeping counterattack.

Two minutes after falling behind, Muangthong came close to equalising when Gjurovski, who was looking their likeliest source of a goal, found space on the edge of the area and drilled a shot just wide of the bottom corner.

But a minute later, the visitors doubled their lead in what almost a carbon copy of their opener; Conca finding space in the middle of the park before playing a brilliant through-ball to Muriqui, who once again effortlessly finished past Weera Koedpudsa.

Despite the two-goal deficit, the Thai outfit refused to give in and were almost gifted a goal six minutes into the second half when hesitant goalkeeping from Zeng Cheng saw him charge out of his area and kick the ball straight to an opponent. Nonetheless, the China international did well to race back in time and push Sarawut's goal-bound effort wide.

But the Muangthong forward was not to be denied a minute later when he made it 2-1 after a clearance by the opposition defence smashed into the back of Dagno Siaka and fortuitously landed back inside the area, where he proceeded to expertly guide a looping header into the far corner.

Nonetheless, it took Guangzhou just four minutes to issue a response when Gao Lin cleverly laid the ball back into the path of Zheng, who made no mistake in firing home from the edge of the area.

With nothing left to lose, Twin Qilins coach Slavisa Jokanovic decided to make an attacking switch by bringing on 19-year-old winger Thitipan Puangchan for right-back Artit Daosawang, and the move nearly paid dividends.

Three minutes after coming on, the youngster broke down the right and fired in a cross that was miskicked by Napat Thamrongsupakorn but fell to Siaka. The Ivorian midfielder did well to instantly roll it back into the path of Gjurovski, only for him to blaze over.

Thitipan caused more problems for the visitors in the 73rd minute when he raced down the right and unleashed an excellent drive that sailed just wide of the far post, before Kim Yoo-jin forced Zeng into a save after he met a Gjurovski corner with a firm header three minutes later.

However, Muangthong's brave fight was finally ended four minutes from time when an error from Weera saw him push a freekick straight to Feng, who made no mistake in smashing home from eight yards to round off the scoring for Marcello Lippi's charges.

Muangthong United: Weera Koedpudsa, Artit Daosawang (Thitipan Puangchan 66'), Panupong Wongsa, Kim Yoo-jin, Weerawut Kayem, Jakkapan Pornsai (Piyaphon Buntao 46'), Phichitphong Choeichiu, Dagno Siaka, Mario Gjurovski, Roland Linz (Napat Thamrongsupakorn 46'), Sarawut Masuk.

Guangzhou Evergrande: Zeng Cheng, Zhang Linpeng, Kim Young-kwon, Feng Xiaoting, Sun Xiang, Dario Conca (Huang Bowen 80'), Zheng Zhi, Zhao Xuri (Qin Sheng 85'), Muriqui, Gao Lin, Lucas Barrios (Rong Hao 74').

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