(Reuters) – Brazilian forward Elkeson scored a stunning solo effort as China’s Guangzhou Evergrande edged Emiratis Al-Ahli 1-0 on Saturday to win their second Asian Champions League title in three years.
Guangzhou, who won a fifth consecutive Chinese title three weeks ago, will now represent Asia at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan next month after coach Luiz Felipe Scolari extended his unbeaten run to 23 matches since taking charge in June.
The 2002 Brazilian World Cup-winning coach owed Saturday’s triumph to his compatriot Elkeson, a player whose position in the squad came under threat when Scolari signed former Real Madrid forward Robinho in July.
Scolari, though, opted for Elkeson, who had suffered injury problems this year, over Robinho as one of his four foreigners in the Champions League squad and the forward rewarded the coach’s decision with a man-of-the-match display.
The 26-year-old, who scored in both legs of the 2013 final, bamboozled his marker Salmin Khamis with a clever turn inside the penalty area before curling the ball with the outside of his foot past goalkeeper Ahmed Ashoor in the 54th minute.
It was a stunning piece of skill that finally brought an end to the deadlock between the two expensively assembled teams, who were again guilty of being overly cautious as in the goalless first leg in Dubai a fortnight ago.
Salmin’s match ended 12 minutes later when he was sent off for standing on Zheng Long having brought him to the ground with a tackle from behind. The central defender needing to be dragged off the field by three members of the coaching staff in embarrassing scenes.
Al-Ahli bravely fought on with 10 men in search of the goal that would have landed them the title on the away goals rule but they struggled to test substitute goalkeeper Li Shuai, who replaced injured first choice Zeng Cheng in the first half.
The visitors’ best chance came when the impressive Everton Ribeiro sent his Brazilian compatriot Lima clear on goal in the 77th minute but Kim Young-gwon chased down the striker and produced a fantastic last-gasp tackle to block the forward.
With Al-Ahli piling forward, Elkeson had a chance to relieve the stress but he blazed a shot over the bar in the 94th minute. It mattered little as Guangzhou held on to the delight of the more than 50,000 crowd at the Tianhe Stadium.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore)