Guangzhou Evergrande unlucky but only have themselves to blame

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

It was a monumental effort from Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday evening, one which promised to produce arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the AFC Champions League.

Yet, it just was not enough as they were eliminated from the quarter-finals of Asia’s premier club competition by Shanghai SIPG on penalties, following an amazing 5-5 aggregate draw.

After an emphatic 4-0 result in the first leg, it seemed a mere formality that Shanghai would go on to secure their last-four berth at the Tianhe Stadium. Surely, there was no way back for their Chinese Super League rivals…

Remarkably, a first-half brace from Alan gave them hope but their intensity dropped after the break and Shanghai looked home and dry.

Then, Ricardo Goulart struck in the 83rd minute and followed that up with another in the first minute of injury-time to force extra time.

The visitors reclaimed the aggregate lead with the only positive thing they produced the entire night – a cracking freekick from Hulk – but Goulart completed his hat-trick from the spot to make it 5-5 and take the tie to penalties. By now, Shanghai only had nine men on the pitch with both Wang Jiajie and Wang Shenchao sent off.

The perfect script, except for anyone associated with the Red Eagles, was pointing to Evergrande emerging triumphant yet Goulart went from hero to zero, producing the only miss out of ten attempts to end his side’s hopes of becoming Asian champions for the third time in six years.

Given the amount of spirit they displayed which almost saw them pull off a modern-day miracle and their lead role in what will go down as one of the all-time Asian football classics, it would seem harsh to be critical of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side.

Nonetheless, the fact of the matter remains that they could – and should – be in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

They may have scored five goals on the night but they could easily have had ten. Shanghai were woeful with Hulk, Oscar and Wu Lei exerting zero influence on the contest, while their defence produced a shambolic display.

The game was there for the taking immediately after halftime yet Evergrande dropped off in intensity, only rediscovering their urgency in the final 15 minutes of the contest.

And where to begin with the missed opportunities?

The Guangdong-based side should have scored four even before halftime when Goulart found himself in acres of space with only Yan Junling to beat from ten yards out, before a weak effort by Alan from another one-on-one allowed Lin Chuangyi to race back in time and clear off the line.

When they did produce significantly better efforts on goal, luck was not on their side as both the woodwork and Yan came to Shanghai’s rescue.

Even in extra-time, the chances continue to fall Evergrande’s way as the opposition backline completed crumbled under wave after wave of attacks.

In the end, the reigning Super League champions only had themselves to blame as their profligate ways – summed up by Goulart’s miss in the shootout just ten minutes after he had successfully converted from the spot in extra-time – proved to be their downfall.