Paulinho hero as Guangzhou Evergrande move into ACL quarters
A second-half strike from Paulinho was enough to give Guangzhou Evergrande a place in the last eight of the AFC Champions League, despite a 2-1 second-leg loss at Kashima Antlers in Japan on Tuesday night.
With Guangzhou taking last week's first leg 1-0, the Brazilian international's intervention gave the visitors a vital away goal, and the advantage in this 2-2 aggregate second-round tie.
Kashima had much the better of the opening exchanges, asking questions of the team who have won the Chinese Super League for the last six seasons. Pedro Junior was a constant thorn in the visitors' side, giving Guangzhou goalkeeper Zeng Cheng plenty to think about.
Pedro Junior made the difference after 26 minutes in spectacular style. The Brazilian did well to stay on his feet as he came under challenge midway in the opposition half, and he soon demonstrated that he was right to do so. From 25 yards, the 30-year-old sent a swerving rocket into the top right corner of the Chinese goal.
Guangzhou, looking to add to the continental titles won in 2013 and 2015, had hitherto offered little in attack. But within minutes Liu Jian stretched to get on the end of a corner at the near post, and hit the outside of the crossbar.
Five minutes before the break, Kashima, with no thought of sitting back, should have moved ahead in the tie, and not just on the night.
The galloping Daigo Nishi sent a perfect low cross from the right side into the path of the unmarked Shoma Doi, taking advantage of a defence still adapting to the withdrawal of Zhang Linpeng through injury. But the midfielder shot over from close range.
Pedro Junior bamboozled the Guangzhou backline once again on the stroke of half-time to shoot against the legs of Zeng from close range.
Kashima continued to look dangerous after the restart. But out of nowhere Guangzhou got the all-important away goal after 55 minutes.
Gao Lin headed a throw-in into the danger zone, Alan nipped in quickly to shoot against the post and there was Paulinho, unmarked and one metre out, to silence the home fans.
It took the wind of Kashima's sails. The hosts' intensity dropped until Mu Kanazaki grabbed an added-time goal, but it was scant consolation.
Elsewhere in Japan, Kawasaki Frontale made short work of Muangthong United to win 4-1 on the night, and 7-2 on aggregate.
Kawasaki carried on at home in the way they had finished just north of Bangkok last week.
Three goals came in the space of 10 first-half minutes.
After 31 minutes Yu Kobayashi, who caused such problems in the first leg, opened the scoring, twisting and turning inside the area to shoot low into the net.
Within moments of the restart, the tie was as good as over as Tatsuya Hasegawa added a second from close range in a crowded area. Five minutes before the break, Eduardo Neto headed a third. Rhayner made it 4-0 with 11 minutes remaining to add to Muangthong's misery.
It was not lifted as Teerasil Dangda grabbed a very late consolation goal for the Thais.
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.