KAWASAKI, Japan: Ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho grabbed a crucial goal as two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande squeaked past Kashima Antlers on away goals on Tuesday to reach the AFC Champions League quarterfinals.
Paulinho, the scorer in last week’s 1-0 win in Guangzhou, scored a tap-in on 55 minutes and it was enough to put the Chinese team through despite their 2-1 defeat on the night.
The result was cruel for Kashima, who went ahead through Pedro Junior’s superb strike in the first half and scored again via Mu Kanazaki in injury time for an aggregate score of 2-2.
But it was a major step forward for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Chinese league-leaders, who lifted the Asian title in 2013 and 2015 but exited last year at the group stage.
In Tuesday’s other last-16 tie in Japan, Kawasaki Frontale beat Thailand’s Muangthong United 4-1 to complete a 7-2 aggregate win and reach the quarter-finals at a canter.
Pedro Junior showed skill and tenacity to open the scoring on 28 minutes, when he brushed off two challenges and launched a brilliant shot into the top corner.
Evergrande nearly hit back when Liu Jian’s full-stretch volley rebounded off the post, but the most enterprising attacking play remained at the other end.
Pedro Junior skilfully lifted a ball to his fellow Brazilian Leandro, whose volley went straight at the goalkeeper, before Shoma Doi bundled a close-range half-volley over the bar.
The hosts looked comfortable but Evergrande seized back the initiative on 55 minutes when Wang Shangyuan’s long throw-in was flicked on by Gao Lin.
Alan’s wriggling turn-and-shot came off the near post and bounced across the face of the goal, leaving Paulinho with a simple finish to make it 2-1 on aggregate.
Kanazaki, who came on for Leandro on the hour-mark, crashed a shot in off the bar in stoppage time but Kashima had run out of time to make a comeback.
In Kawasaki, a three-goal burst in 10 first-half minutes guaranteed a quarter-final spot for the hosts as they thrashed Muangthong once again after last week’s 3-1 win.
Yu Kobayashi’s individual goal set the hosts on their way on 31 minutes, before his cut-back found Tatsuya Hasegawa for Kawasaki’s second just a minute later.
Eduardo Neto’s header on 40 minutes made it 3-0 and Brazilian midfielder Rhayner got the fourth on 79 minutes, before Teerasil Dangda grabbed a late consolation for Muangthong.
Mixed luck for Iran
In Weat Asia, Iranian teams had mixed luck as Persepolis advanced to the quarterfinals while Esteghlal Khouzestan crashed out.
Persepolis ended Qatar champions Lekhwiya’s hopes of emulating Al Sadd’s 2011 winning run with a lucky 1-0 win after both teams had featured in a goalless draw in their first leg clash last week.
Saudi giants Al Hilal also progressed with a 4-2 aggregate over Esteghlal Khouzestan after a 2-1 victory in a late match that ended well past midnight due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Persepolis were clearly unlucky in the first leg during which they missed several chances, including a penalty, but the tide turned in their favor on Tuesday when a Chico Flores own goal in the 23rd minute gave them a 1-0 aggregate win.
Flores diverted a Mehedi Taremi shot across the goal into his own net in what was Lekhwiya’s last competitive match as they would merge with El Jaish next season to form a new team called Al Duhail Sports Club.
Lekhwiya dominated possession and created several chances but the Persepolis defence managed to hold firm and keep the threatening duo of Nam Tae-hee and Youssef al-Arabi at bay.
Meanwhile Omar Kharbin and Salem al-Dawsari were on target for Al Hilal as they defeated Esteghlal Khouzestan 2-1 to run out 4-2 winners on aggregate.
Khouzestan appeared to be on track to overturn their 2-1 loss in the first leg when Aloys Nong gave them the lead in the 12th minute from a Mahdi Zobeidi assist.
But Kharbin stooped low to head in a Mohamed al-Burayk cross four minutes later for the equalizer and al-Dawsari struck eight minutes from time to ensure Al Hilal’s quarter-final spot.